Empowering Leadership Leads Virtual Teams to Success

Topic(s): leadership, teams
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2016)
Article: Empowering leadership and effective collaboration in geographically dispersed teams.
Authors: N.S. Hill, K.M. Bartol
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted

The recent increase in virtual teams—or teams of geographically dispersed members—is likely due to advances in technology, the ability to hire irrespective of location, and the cost savings associated with needing less office space. With the growing pervasiveness of virtual teams, there is also a growing need to understand the leadership styles that promote virtual collaboration and successfully manage remote workers.

Researchers (Hill & Bartol, 2016) collected data from 194 employees who were part of 29 geographically dispersed teams at a large multi-national organization. The researchers focused on a form of leadership in which leaders empower their team members. An empowering team leader will lead by example, encourage participative decision making, as well as coach, inform, and show concern for team members. Empowering leaders create an environment in which team members are more able to apply their knowledge and skills to be a successful virtual team member.

The authors theorized that an empowering team leader fosters virtual collaboration and team performance. Given that the challenges to collaborating virtually increase as individuals are more dispersed (e.g., more time zones or nationalities represented among a team), the role of the leader is magnified.


The researchers also examined one characteristic of team members in relation to virtual collaboration and team performance called virtual teamwork situational judgment, or VT-SJ. This refers to knowledge about how to effectively use virtual collaboration success strategies.

Researchers found that when empowering leadership was high, team members’ VT-SJ and virtual collaborative behaviors increased, which resulted in higher individual and team performance. As hypothesized, the more geographically dispersed a team was, the more empowering leadership influenced individuals’ VT-SJ and team performance. The researchers further noted that the teams focused on operations and process improvement were particularly influenced by empowering leadership.


One practical implication for this study is the potential for organizations that are looking to increase the performance of their virtual teams. They can train managers to be empowering and to provide skills training for virtual team members to help increase their VT-SJ strategies. Examples of ways to build these situational judgment skills are case studies and discussions about the appropriate ways to address the common challenges that remote workers face.

These are the key takeaways from the article:

  1. Virtual team situational judgment (VT-SJ) is a valuable characteristic for understanding collaboration among remote workers.
  2. Empowering leaders help virtual teams succeed by increasing team members’ VT-SJ and collaboration.
  3. As geographical dispersion increases, empowering leaders become even more beneficial to team success.

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Hill, N. S., & Bartol, K. M. (2016). Empowering Leadership and Effective Collaboration in Geographically Dispersed Teams. Personnel Psychology, 69(1), 159-198.