Academic Exchange Quarterly      Spring   2007    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  11, Issue  1

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Media Richness & Individual Perceptions of Teams


Paul H. Jacques, Western Carolina University, NC

John Garger, Metronome Computer Services, NY

Cynthia S. Deale, Western Carolina University, NC

Barbara Jo White, Western Carolina University, NC


Paul H. Jacques, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Management & International Business; John Garger is an independent consultant and owner of Metronome Computer Services; Cynthia S. Deale, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Hospitality & Tourism, Department of Management & International Business; Barbara Jo White, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Business Computer Information Systems.




The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that lean communication media influence the perceptions of participants in virtual versus face-to-face teams. Students participated in either a virtual or face-to-face team environment and returned completed surveys. Results illustrate that leaner media richness in virtual teams accounts for lower individual perceptions of team ability, team trustworthiness, and satisfaction with team in virtual teams. Implications and study limitations are discussed.




Increasingly, proficiency in multimedia learning environments is becoming a necessary tool for students in higher education as computer-mediated instruction supplements or even completely replaces the face-to-face classroom.


Distance learning via various computer-based, virtual platforms is becoming commonplace where students are exposed to online and/or computer-mediated learning and need to gain competencies in their use through increased media literacy with electronic learning resources. According to Goodfellow and Lea (2005), the dearth of online, text-based literacy remains the greatest challenge for educators in the move from print-based classroom interactions to electronic-based interactions.


Piccoli, Ahmad, and Ives (2001) found that with regard to virtual versus face-to-face basic-skills training, there were no significant differences in performance between undergraduate students enrolled in the two environments. However, the virtual learning environment led to higher reported computer self-efficacy, while participants reported being less satisfied with the learning process. The current study further investigates the differences between face-to-face and virtual learning experiences by focusing on individual perceptions of team ability, team trustworthiness, and satisfaction with team in virtual and face-to-face collaborative projects.




Media can be characterized as residing along a continuum of lean to rich According to this schema, media are classified based on the following criteria: feedback, multiplicity of cues, language variety and meaning, and personal focus. Lean media include much of computer-mediated communication, such as email and other text communication, while the richest media is associated with face-to-face communication (Daft, Lengel, & Trevino, 1987).


People are not likely to be equally comfortable and satisfied with different media, nor is it likely that people believe that different media can be used interchangeably to accomplish particular tasks. One study (Straus, Miles, & Levesque, 2001) examined the effects of different media, such as-to-face, telephone, and video conference, for both interviewers and applicants. Results suggest that interviewers rated applicants less favorably in face-to-face interviews as compared to telephone interviews. Applicants, on the other hand, generally preferred face-to-face interviews over telephone or video-conferencing types of interviews. One notion the study did not examine was whether applicants would gravitate toward particular types of jobs based on the type of media used and the outcome of the interview.


Information technologies that facilitate communication in new media are simply tools that are only useful if people adopt them and use them productively (Bandura, 2002). Thus, when faced with choices among various media, satisfaction with adopted media is an important concept that affects not only current adoption but future adoption of media as well. One study by Jacques, Deale, and Garger (2006) demonstrated that two constructs, perceived usefulness and ease of use, from the Technology Acceptance Model (c.f. Davis, 1989; Venkatesh & Davis, 2000) predicted future intention to use an in-class, computer-mediated testing system. However, none of the above studies examined the impact of media richness in a group decision-making context.  The current study, using face-to-face and computer-mediated group communication, examines the effects of media type on individual perceptions of team satisfaction, team ability, and team trustworthiness. An understanding of satisfaction and trust-related issues associated with media can serve to inform administrators of projects and programs that promote media literacy.


Current Study


After a review of the literature, a conceptual model was constructed to demonstrate the effects of lean communication media in virtual teams on individual perceptions of team ability, team trustworthiness, and satisfaction with the team. A 6-item scale of ability and an 8-item scale of trustworthiness were taken from Jarvenpaa, Knoll, and Leidner (1998). The ability scale was originally from a Schoorman, Mayer, and Davis (1996) working paper modified by Jarvenpaa et al. (1998) to reflect a team rather than dyadic context. The trustworthiness scale was originally from Pearce, Sommer, Morris, and Frideger (1992) also modified by Jarvenpaa et al. (1998) to reflect a team rather than an organizational environment. The satisfaction with team scale was measured with thirteen items from Keyton (1991) which captures a full-range of global team satisfiers. All items were rated by subjects on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. Since multiple items were collected per variable, scale scores were created with a mean of the items for estimation of each construct.


The sample, collected in 2006, consisted of 227 undergraduate, management students across 15 courses in a comprehensive, mid-sized university. Subjects were randomly assigned to either a virtual or face-to-face condition and then randomly assigned to 4-person groups within those conditions. All teams completed a 30-minute project appropriate to the course in which the study was conducted and deemed by the current authors to be similar in terms of complexity and difficulty. The face-to-face teams completed the project collocated while the virtual teams communicated over a chat program. In the virtual team condition, the first and only contact team members experienced was over the chat program to preserve the anonymity factor.


An Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was conducted with a computer statistics program to compare means and obtain F-statistics and p-values to assess significant differences between the virtual and face-to-face environments.




Means, standard deviations, and scale correlations for measures in this study are shown in Table 1.




As hypothesized, means for individual perceptions of team ability, team trustworthiness, and satisfaction with the team were significantly higher in the face-to-face condition versus the virtual team condition (F = 28.38, p-value < 0.01; F = 40.06, p-value < 0.01; and F = 24.73, p-value < 0.01 respectively). Consequently, the leaner communication media in virtual teams have a negative effect on the three constructs under investigation in ad hoc teams.


Limitations and Further Research


The current authors identified two limitations to consider when evaluating the results of the present study. First, the sample consisted of undergraduate, business students only. A more diverse sample is called for in subsequent research to increase the ability to generalize to higher-education students or other contexts. Second, there may have been differentiation associated with subject familiarity or experience with virtual teams. Varying experience working in virtual teams may be a factor in determining perceived team ability, team trustworthiness, and team satisfaction at the individual level, especially in teams where there exist heterogeneous mixes of subjects in teams in terms of experience.




The results found in this study have several implications for instructors and administrators in higher education. Students enrolled in business courses were likely to have many experiences working face-to-face to produce a written product in a limited amount of time. Completing such activities in a virtual environment required students to tap into an area of media literacy that may have been new to them. Students in the face-to-face teams used visual cues and synchronous communication to complete their projects while the virtual teams spent more time trying to figure out how to communicate with each other; They were not as quickly able to figure out their group roles or the topic via virtual interactions with each other.


Results of this study may also relate to the need to develop a sense of community in the online environment. In face-to-face classes, the sense of community can be developed fairly easily and naturally with classroom activities, but special attention must be given to these items in the development of effective virtual communication. Kirschner and van Bruggen (2004) defined a valued learning experience as being equal to the sum of the components of pedagogy, content, and community with a need for these three components to be in balance for team effectiveness. A community is an affective structure and that is more difficult to create online, although it can be aided by specific activities that add to the sense of group cohesion and to the reflective component of the team experience. In face-to-face classes, instructors need to help teams to establish rapport and to figure out roles. These tasks are even more important in virtual teams because virtual communication does not lend itself readily to these activities. Instructors can begin the process of virtual team building by engaging students in simple online tasks and in specifically creating online communities with input from the instructor.


It is common in education for instructors to select or allow students to self select team members and let those teams complete projects without further involvement. In the case of virtual teams it is especially important for instructors to provide guidance and to help structure team activities. If possible, it helps to have virtual team members meet face-to-face at least initially or if that is not possible, it helps for students to create web pages and to share images rather than text only to make the experience more tangible. It may also be helpful for the instructor to focus team members on the big picture or overall goal of the team because research shows that there is a tendency for virtual teams to get lost in the distribution and completion of tasks (Chinowsky & Rojas, 2003). Instructors can also encourage the use of team managers and work with those team managers to keep the overall goals of the team clear and to provide feedback about progress. Virtual teams in classes can also be more effective if instructors follow advice adapted from Griffith, Sawyer, and Neale (2003) and  provide experience-building opportunities with team members that include both the use of the technology and the  tasks at hand; allow and encourage virtual teams to develop communities of practice; verbalize or institutionalize  team rules, terminology, and descriptions; foster the development of individual-level tacit knowledge; offer and promote access to tools that support independent work, the transmission of knowledge, and group memory verbalization of rules, terminology, and descriptions.


The results of this study suggest that students need help learning to work in a virtual environment which includes developing literacy with online tools. However, instructors need to be careful not to emphasize the mastery of collaborative online work over knowledge of the subject matter. If instructors wish to utilize online learning environments they would do well to introduce students to the medium gradually with several assignments aimed at increasing their comfort level and competency with online writing and collaborative activities. Also, instructors need to be cautious about simply “virtualizing” existing practices and assignments; instead, they should give serious thought to the creation of appropriate assignments that are compatible with online teaching and learning technologies within the specific subject matter.


Given that the teams formed for the purposes of the research were ad hoc and the online students were located in the same lab similar to a Group Decision Support System situation, students may not have perceived a reason behind using the ad hoc, collocated teams. In fact, there was considerable online conversation to that effect. Therefore, instructors should provide the virtual teams with more opportunities to get used to working with one another and also to explain the purposes behind collocated, virtual teams. Although people may work face-to-face, even collocated colleagues in the same organization find themselves working in virtual teams to complete projects since adopting a media richness level commensurate with the complexity of the intended message allows teams to take advantage of online communication media intelligently.


Although virtual teams were not viewed as satisfactorily as face-to-face teams in the current study and while satisfaction with a media may lead to its continued use, the ability to work in virtual teams may simply be a necessity of work life in a technology-driven society. More and more collaboration takes place in virtual environments and educators can help prepare students to work in such environments through the use of web-based classroom platforms and through assignments and projects that require students to work synchronously or asynchronously in online environments.




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