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The Qualitative Research Stream

March 15th, 2019, by

A Much Richer Picture of the GVT Dynamics: A Qualitative Multi-Study Research Stream

 

The Problem

The field of management research is dominated by quantitative research. However, editorials and special issue invitations calling for more qualitative research have been frequent in in the recent years, including the field’s top journals such as the Academy of Management Journal or the Journal of International Business Studies (e.g., Bansal & Corley, 2011; Birkinshaw, Brannen, & Tung, 2011; Gephart, 2004).

Indeed, qualitative methods offer many advantages and could greatly complement our more traditional quotative research. Interview and open-ended comment data offer a much richer picture than what a set of quantitative variables can provide. Qualitative data are especially useful for theory development prior to quantitative test of the theory using quantitative methods, or for post-hoc in-depth exploration of the relationships and trends identified through more formal quantitative test.

Unfortunately, good qualitative data are hard to come by. Interviews and observations are costly to conduct, and open-question surveys tend to be more consuming than quick Likert-scale questionnaires. As a result, most qualitative studies tend to rely on rather small samples, often with the number of interviewees limited to single digits.

 

The Proposed Research Stream

Incidentally, I have access to an enormous qualitative dataset that would be uniquely suited for studying dynamics and performance in Global Virtual Teams and cross-cultural interactions in workgroups in general. The data come from the X-Culture Project, which is a large-scale international experiential learning and business consulting project that involves over 5,000 MBA and business students from over 1 40 universities in 40 countries on six continents every semester. Over 50,000 students have participated in the project since its inception in 2010.

The students are placed in global virtual teams of about six, each student coming from a different country. Working with people from around the globe and dealing with cultural differences, time-zone dispersion, and global communication challenges, the teams complete a consulting business project for a multi-national company.

Every week, the project participants submit their progress surveys, where among other things they describe their experiences, interactions with team members, challenges their teams are going through and way the challenges are being addressed, and more. Over the years, we have collected over 100,000 pages of comments.

 

Aside from being massive in their size and scope, theses qualitative data have several major advantages over other qualitative datasets:

  1. The comments are received from every team member and, thus, the accounts and reflections of different team members can be matched and compared. This would not only provide a much richer picture, but would be especially useful for studying conflict or other phenomena where different parties are likely to have different views on the situation.

 

  1. Each study participant describes their experiences weekly. This allows for a longitudinal look at the phenomenon under investigation.

 

  1. Detailed quotative data are also available on each study participant and team, such as information about the respondents’ demographic background, nationality, individual and team performance, and much more. This way, the qualitative data could be matched with quantitative data, complementing each other and allowing for a much deeper exploration of various phenomena.

 

This opens virtually limitless opportunities for research. Here are just a few examples of the research questions that could be addressed using the X-Culture qualitative data. Please note, each of these explorations can lead to multiple paper publications.

 

Sample Study 1: Are there systemic differences in the themes and topics that different national demographic groups focus on when they describe their weekly team experiences?

What do members of international talk about in their progress reports? Do the concerns and issues members of international teams differ systemically across demographics, nationality, sexes, etc.?

This line of inquiry can lead to multiple studies that compare how and what is said in the comments by the members of different populations. The comments can be coded in terms of the topics (comments about people, tasks, circumstances; positive, neutral, or negative tone; complaints vs. praise, and so on). We can then explore if these vary across men vs. women, older vs. younger, people from collectivist vs. individualist cultures, graduate vs. undergraduate, and so on.

For example, one could test such pervasive stereotypes such as that women tend to talk more about relationships while men would talk more about the task or that that people from collectivist cultures talk more about relationships among team members, whereas people from individualist cultures talk more about the task.

At the team level, the study could look at how team characteristics affect the concerns and topics that the team members are more focused on. For example,

  • Do teams that have a formally elected leader talk about different things than the teams that have no leader?
  • Do larger teams have different concerns than smaller teams?
  • Do more diverse teams are different from homogeneous teams in terms of their concerns and grievances?

 

Sample Study 2: Evolution of concerns and issues over the lifecycle of the team life

The X-Culture data are longitudinal. It also tracks the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing), and other processes in the teams (conflicts, communication frequency and tools, leadership structure, quality of work, etc.). This presents a unique opportunity to explore how the themes and concerns in the weekly journal entries evolve over time and how they correlate with other team processes. For example:

  • Do the issues raised in weekly journal entries evolve as the team progresses from forming to storming to norming to performing?
  • Are the trajectories of the top concerns different in different teams? If they are different, what explains the differences and commonalities?
  • Do certain themes or words in weekly comments predict conflicts, free-riding, bullying, or other problems in teams?
  • Do certain themes or words predict how quickly and how the conflict could be resolved?
  • Do certain problems (e.g., interpersonal conflicts, problems with the schedule or coordination) discussed differently in teams that have formally elected leaders? Do different parties approach such situations differently?
  • Do these processes develop faster or slower at different stages of team life?
  • Can the duration and severity of conflicts be predicted by the tone (positive/negative) these processes are described by the parties involved in the dispute?

 

Sample Study 3: What winners vs. losers talk about

Since our data also contain detailed performance records, we can look at how the tone and topics of the weekly experience comments differ for those team members and teams that perform well versus those that struggle.

Could it be that the way people think and talk about issues predicts (or even leads) to high versus low performance?

What do the winning vs. failing teams talk about? Do they use a different language? Do they use more “I” or “We”? Do they use a more positive or more negative tone?

The research opportunities are virtually endless here. These data were primarily collected for administrative purposes (to identify students/teams that need help, etc.), but have been approved for the use for research by the IRB. Unfortunately, with the focus on quantitative research, the qualitative data has been sitting untouched for years. To a large degree, the delay has been caused by the resource demands presented by this sort of research. My hope is that the grant will allow me to get this research stream going.

References

 

Bansal, P., & Corley, K. (2011). The coming of age for qualitative research: Embracing the diversity of qualitative methods. Academy of Management Journal, 54(2), 233-237.

Birkinshaw, J., Brannen, M. Y., & Tung, R. L. (2011). From a distance and generalizable to up close and grounded: Reclaiming a place for qualitative methods in international business research. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(5), 573-581.

Gephart, R. P. (2004). Qualitative research and the Academy of Management Journal. Academy of Management Journal, 47(4), 454-462.