Exploring emotion experiences and the regulation thereof within virtual teams in the information technology industry
The rise of globalisation with the introduction of technology into society and organisations in particular, has made it possible for modern day organisations to expand their services beyond the boundaries of the organisation, geographical location and time zones into the broader market place. These expansions necessitate the employment of virtual teams, which brings both skills and expertise together needed for specific project requirements. Virtual teams mainly collaborate through the use of technology mediated communication tools such as electronic mail and teleconferencing. Organisations see them as beneficial to use especially in spheres that require intensive knowledge processing and design, such as software developing companies, which form part of the information technology industry. Although organisations see these teams as beneficial, numerous challenges are created when face–to-face interaction is replaced with technology mediated interaction. One such challenge could be the experience of emotions and the regulation of these emotions, as emotions intensify with virtual communication. Regulation of emotions also seems to suffer, as the non-verbal cues which enable emotion understanding are, as a matter of fact, missing. The objective of this research was thus to explore and describe the emotion experiences of virtual team members, as well as the emotion regulation thereof. This phenomenological research followed a qualitative approach and made use of purposive sampling. The sample consisted out of eleven (n = 11) software engineers who form part of virtual teams employed in an IT organisation. Data gathering consisted out of semi-structured in- depth interviews, which was tape recorded, transcribed and analysed through thematic and content analysis. The findings included four emotion events namely, communication, team characteristics, job characteristics and work outcomes which had been identified. The findings yielded eight clusters of emotion experiences, which included frustration; impatience, irritation and anger; anxiety, nervousness, stress and caution; uncertainty, confusion and helplessness; incompetence, inadequacy and embarrassment; disappointment, despondency and discouragement; relief, accomplishment and pride; and glad, happiness, satisfaction and surprise. Six emotion regulation strategies were found and were identified as cognitive change, attention reorientation, situation modification, response modulation, situation selection and learned behaviour. The emotion event themes aligned with three levels of functioning in an organisation, individual, group and organisational level, which could be related to certain outcomes of negative events in the virtual teams. It is important to note that the study was not without limitations. The sample was not representative of the multicultural South African population and consequently no evidence for cultural and gender differences in emotion experiences and regulation could be provided. Furthermore, the teams in their entirety were not interviewed, and findings could also not be unified to the entire virtual team. It was possible to make various recommendations which emanated from the findings. Future research could firstly make use of a larger, more diverse sample to inform quantitative hypotheses to confirm and validate these findings, in order to generalise the findings to virtual teams in the IT industry as a whole. Secondly, researchers could investigate ways in which individual virtual competence can be included in a competency model specifically designed for virtual teams. Thirdly, training programmes aimed at training virtual team leaders in emotion management and cross-cultural skills should be researched and developed. Lastly this research sparked interest into the continuation of exploring the effect the virtual team phenomenon have on members’ emotions and emotion regulation.