Extending the Functional Theory of Communication and Decision-making in the Virtual World: A Study of the Relationship of Modality and Cultural Background to Satisfaction, Creativity, and Decision Quality in Virtual Team Interaction

Open Access
Behring, Deanna Marie
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 17, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Dennis Stephen Gouran, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jon F Nussbaum, Committee Member
  • Eileen M Trauth, Committee Member
  • Gerald Santoro, Committee Member
  • Global Virtual Teams
  • Intercultural
  • Communication
  • Technology
  • Modality
In today's globally interconnected world, work is accomplished across time and space, bringing together different expertise, cultures, values, and ideas. Just how the communication process in these new, intercultural virtual teams unfolds is currently an investigation that requires consideration of group communication, virtual, and cross-cultural disciplines. This research attempted to integrate these disciplines in such a way as to provide a better understanding of how communication processes in these sorts of teams is affected by culture and technology. This study investigated how the Functional Theory of group communication operated in the intercultural, virtual world. It assessed how various technologies (text and audio) interacted with cultural issues to affect the process and behavior during the communication process, as well as key outcomes of creativity, quality of decision, and satisfaction of the participants. Chinese and U.S. dyads participated in a decision-making exercise using text or audio and answered a questionnaire about the process to determine satisfaction. In addition, the dialogue was coded and analyzed to determine whether and, if so, how the dyads followed the steps required by Functional Theory. Finally, the communication was analyzed by a panel of experts to judge creativity and quality of decision. These results were then cross checked with satisfaction data to help reveal which technology in intercultural dyads yields the best outcomes (creativity, quality of decision and satisfaction) and how the Functional Theory applies. The results indicated that in the intercultural context, teams following the five steps required by the Functional Theory had the highest levels of creativity and quality of decisions, although the satisfaction levels were higher in dyads in the audio condition in which the sequence addressed by Functional Theory was applied. The dyads that did not follow the sequence suggested by Functional Theory had the lowest levels of creativity and quality, whether in the text or audio condition. The Chinese reported higher levels of satisfaction overall than did their U.S. counterparts, although the U.S. participants dominated discussion in all cases. In terms of the five functions encompassed by the theory, the audio dyads spent relatively more time on Functions 2 and 4 to develop mutual understanding and criteria for decision making than did the text dyads, which were more likely to focus on Functions 3 (developing alternatives) and 5 (making a decision). Gender analysis yielded interesting results. In the audio condition, U.S. females dominated the discussion related to Function 2, whereas U.S. males did so in the case of utterances related to Function 5. In same-sex gender pairings, greater emphasis was placed on Function 2, and in mixed gender pairings on Function 5. In the text condition, no discernible pattern was detected. These findings have implications for how the communication process for intercultural, virtual teams might be managed. During which stage of the team building process, for example, does text technology serve the team better than audio technology in terms of desired outputs such as creativity, quality or building team satisfaction? Future research should build on the findings herein to investigate other, developing communication technologies.