The Relationship between Team Cultural Values and Emergent Leadership Style In Self-Managed Global Virtual Teams

The “BIG” research question:

Research shows teams with clear leadership structures do better than leader-less teams.

Why then some teams end up formally electing a leader, others have informal leaders, and yet others have no leader at all? Could the cultural composition of the team be a factor?

With the proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), firms are increasing virtual cooperation in order to effectively achieve their corporate objectives (Carte, Chidambaram, & Becker, 2006). This cooperation takes form in virtual teams which differ from conventional teams mainly in their degrees of physical interaction and team member distance, namely virtuality (Hertel, Geister, & Konradt, 2005). This means that conventional leadership theories do not always apply to virtual teams, especially when they are global (Hooijberg, Hunt, & Dodge, 1997).

Virtual teams are groups of people who are dispersed in terms of space and time and use information and communication technologies in order to accomplish an objective (Bhagat, Malhotra, & Zhu, 2011). In a recent review of the literature on virtual teams, Gilson, Maynard, Young, Vartianen & Hakonen (2014) categorize them in themes such as team composition, drivers of effectiveness, degree of team virtuality, technologies, globalization, leadership, mediators and moderators, trust, outcomes and ways to enhance success. The literature also distinguishes between conventional virtual teams and global virtual teams (GVTs). Both kinds of teams share things in common however GVTs are more complex since they tend to me more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed.

In terms of leadership in GVTs, the bulk of the literature focuses mainly on the leaders themselves. Therefore we find literature on leader competences, behaviors and traits e.g. (Alon & Higgins, 2005; Caligiuri & Tarique, 2012; Javidan, Teagarden, & Bowen, 2010); leadership styles e.g. (Bass, Avolio, & Atwater, 1996); leadership functions and roles e.g. (Konradt & Hoch, 2007) and cross cultural leadership e.g. (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004; House, Dorfman, Javidan, Hanges, & de Luque, Mary F Sully, 2013). On the other hand while there is abundant research in emergent leadership in conventional virtual teams e.g. (Cogliser, Gardner, Gavin, & Broberg, 2012) few studies analyze the emergence of leadership in GVTs (Lisak & Erez, 2015). Additionally, both streams of research also focus on the emergent leader’s characteristics and not the followers’. There is lack of research on the perspective of the followers in self-managed teams, and even less or none on the impact of the follower’s culture in the emergence of a leader. This paper will attempt to fill this gap by analyzing the relationship between follower’s cultural values on expected leadership emergence in self-managed global virtual teams.


Theory and Hypotheses

The person-environment fit approach impacts the performance of global teams in the sense that individuals within a global team are expected to share the overall values of the work environment in which they are embedded. In a similar way, the person-team fit approach illustrates that individuals whose characteristics are shared with the teams’ work environment are suitable for the team (Lisak & Erez, 2015). While authors such as Lisak & Erez (1995) identified the characteristics that an individual should possess in order to be identified as a leader by other team members, we will study the team member’s characteristics in terms of cultural values and if they determine or not the emergence of a leader and the type of emergent leadership in a self-managed virtual team.

In line with the person-environment and team approaches, implicit leadership theory (ILT) posits that individuals have internal beliefs about the characteristics that distinguish leaders, and that the acceptance of leaders depends on the match between the leader’s characteristics and the followers’ (Dorfman, Javidan, Hanges, Dastmalchian, & House, 2012; House et al., 2013). These individual beliefs are affected by culture therefore House et al,. (2004) took the theory further referring to it as culturally endorsed implicit theory of leadership (CLT). These theories have been used to characterize the leader that fits a specific context, however no study has taken into account that the emergence of leadership in self-managed teams could depend on the characteristics of the team members first, therefore appointing the leader they believe fits they values best. Then based on CLT, do the cultural values of a global virtual self-managed team influence who will be appointed as leader? This paper will try to answer this question my posing a series of hypotheses based on team cultural values.

Kirkman & Shapiro (2001), found that multicultural team members who are embedded or collectivist tend to be more cooperative and empowered in self-managing work teams, therefore we hypothesize that:


H1a: There is a positive relationship between embeddedness in virtual teams and leader emergence.

H1b: There is a negative relationship between affective autonomy in virtual teams and leader emergence.

H1c: There is a negative relationship between intellectual autonomy in virtual teams and leader emergence.

In terms of equality, teams with higher values for hierarchy tend to opt for a strong leader (Tinsley & Brett, 2001). Therefore we assume that this will also affect the emergence of leadership in a team with no leader. We hypothesize that:

H2a: There is a positive relationship between hierarchy in virtual teams and leader emergence.

On the other hand, in egalitarian teams there is participative decision making, and team members tend to equally contribute to the team objectives (Brett, 2000). Therefore we hypothesize that:

H2b: There is a negative relationship between egalitarianism in virtual teams and leader emergence.

Schwartz also distinguished between mastery and harmony oriented cultures. In societies in which mastery is valued, there is self-assertion and a search to lead and conquer in order to fulfill personal or in-group goals. On the other hand, cultures in which harmony is valued, acceptance is key and individual’s efforts are directed on understanding their environments and not trying to change them (Schwartz, 1994). Therefore we hypothesize that:

H3a: There is a positive relationship between mastery in virtual teams and leader emergence.

H3b: There is a negative relationship between harmony in virtual teams and leader emergence.


Initial Conceptual Model:

Other possible hypotheses:

X culture also measures types of emergent leadership within the teams: No leader, officially elected leader, informal leader or shared leadership. These could be a new categorical dependent variable and we could test the cultural dimensions against this DV.

In terms of leader follower distance.

H4: The higher the follower-leader distance within the global virtual team the higher the likelihood of leadership emergence.

Additionally, in line with the person-team fit we could hypothesize that:

H5: The cultural values of the team tend to match the values of the emergent team leader.



For this research we will use data collected from the X-Culture Project. This project is a massive experiential learning project involving thousands of students from all over the world. It is an international collaboration project through virtual teams of seven students from different nationalities. The project lasts eight weeks in which the students solve a real challenge posed by a company. Initially thought of as a learning experience, X-Culture has provided researchers with data that are allowing them to understand the intricacies of virtual teams and international collaboration (Taras & Ordeñana, 2014). We will used this data to test our hypotheses using multinomial regression analyzes.

Our possible variables will be the following:

Dependent Variable: Emergence of leadership. Whether leadership emerged or not. This could be further explored as kinds of emergent leadership.


Independent variables:

  1. Overall cultural values of the team based on Shalom Schwarz (1994) framework. We are open to exploring other dimensions measured in X-Culture.
  2. Leader-follower distance.
  3. Other possible IVs could be identified.

Moderators and Mediators: We will identify and include these if necessary at a later phase of the research.

Controls: Communication styles, Cultural Intelligence, Team Size, Country of origin, etc.


Call for Co-authors

We are looking for at least two coauthors that will be expected to make a good contribution in terms of:

  1. Strengthening the literature review, focusing on:
  2. Theoretical background relating to the emergence of leadership in GVT, cultural values in GVT and follower-leader distance.
  3. A Summary of the findings from previous empirical studies.
  4. Revision of the existing model and hypotheses and make the necessary adjustments and additions.
  5. Identification of the gaps and limitations in the literature.
  6. Operationalization of the selected variables based on the X-Culture data and the theoretical framework.
  7. Writing the method section, performing the necessary quantitative data analysis and writing the results section.

In addition, the co-authors are also expected to contribute to the write up of all sections and final revisions of the manuscript.


Co-Author Selection Criteria:

Following the collaborative spirit and co-authorship guidelines of the X-Culture Project, co-authors will be selected using the following criteria:

– Demonstrated expertise in the area: strong research record, have successfully completed the tasks before; e.g., developed lit. review, theory or conducted analyses for papers published in good journals.

– Not only interest, but also ability to contribute: will not sign up and not deliver, but will actually invest a considerable amount of time. Expect to invest at least a few dozen hours over the next few months.

– Quality input: The person will deliver quality results (analysis-ready dataset OR publishable Lit. Review and Theory sections OR properly conducted tests with a publishable Method and Results Sections AND quality input in collective coding scheme development, writing of the Intro and Discussion sections, and final copy-editing of the paper).

Everyone is welcome to sign up, but only those who will actually make a valuable contribution will be listed as co-authors of the resulting publications. If a person sign ups and makes a contribution (prepare or analyze the data, write some parts of the paper) but the quality will not be there and other coauthors will have to re-do those parts, the person will not be listed as a co-author. Priority will be given to X-Culture professors, but exceptionally qualified and motivated “outsiders” will be considered, too; so feel free to share with your colleagues who have undisputable expertise in this particular area.

Expected outcomes and target journals

The expected results from this project include, but are not limited to:

  • A conference paper to be submitted to AIB SE 2015. Deadline July 15, 2015.
  • We are open to journal suggestions for the submission of the paper.
  • A practitioner oriented paper outlining the business implications of the findings.

Lead Author: Andres Velez-Calle



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Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J., & Atwater, L. (1996). The transformational and transactional leadership of men and women. Applied Psychology, 45(1), 5-34.

Bhagat, S., Malhotra, S., & Zhu, P. (2011). Emerging country cross-border acquisitions: Characteristics, acquirer returns and cross-sectional determinants. Emerging Markets Review, 12(3), 250-271. doi:

Brett, J. M. (2000). Culture and negotiation. International Journal of Psychology, 35(2), 97-104.

Caligiuri, P., & Tarique, I. (2012). Dynamic cross-cultural competencies and global leadership effectiveness. Journal of World Business, 47(4), 612-622. doi:

Carte, T. A., Chidambaram, L., & Becker, A. (2006). Emergent leadership in self-managed virtual teams. Group Decision and Negotiation, 15(4), 323-343.

Cogliser, C. C., Gardner, W. L., Gavin, M. B., & Broberg, J. C. (2012). Big five personality factors and leader emergence in virtual teams relationships with team trustworthiness, member performance contributions, and team performance. Group & Organization Management, 37(6), 752-784.

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House, R. J., Dorfman, P. W., Javidan, M., Hanges, P. J., & de Luque, Mary F Sully. (2013). Strategic leadership across cultures: GLOBE study of CEO leadership behavior and effectiveness in 24 countries Sage Publications.

House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies Sage publications.

Javidan, M., Teagarden, M., & Bowen, D. (2010). Making it overseas. Harvard Business Review, 88(4), 109-113.

Kirkman, B. L., & Shapiro, D. L. (2001). The impact of team members’ cultural values on productivity, cooperation, and empowerment in self-managing work teams. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(5), 597-617.

Konradt, U., & Hoch, J. E. (2007). A work roles and leadership functions of managers in virtual teams. International Journal of E-Collaboration (IJeC), 3(2), 16-35.

Lisak, A., & Erez, M. (2015). Leadership emergence in multicultural teams: The power of global characteristics. Journal of World Business, 50(1), 3-14.

Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50(4), 19-45.

Taras, V., & Ordeñana, X. (2014). X-culture: Challenges and best practices of large-scale experiential collaborative projects. The Palgrave Handbook of Experiential Learning in International Business, , 131.

Tinsley, C. H., & Brett, J. M. (2001). Managing workplace conflict in the united states and hong kong. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 85(2), 360-381.


Status: Launched 2015, active

Contact person: Andres Velez-Calle,