Utilizing Virtual Research Teams for Innovation

Utilizing Virtual Research Teams for Innovation

Within the massive umbrella of literature addressing aspects of virtual teams in organizations and their effectiveness (or lack of), there is scant research that specifically addresses the existence and effectiveness of virtual research teams in university environments. Existing research on virtual research teams primarily focuses on research and development within corporations (Hanebuth, 2015).  However, the importance of bodies of literature addressing virtual research teams is becoming more apparent as more and more faculty are interacting to conduct various research endeavors within the confines of online environments, especially faculty at universities with online education as a primary focus.

While University of Phoenix, faculty are found within both online and “brick and mortar” learning environments (“Become a Faculty Member,” 2017), the bulk of these faculty provide online instruction within virtual classroom settings. University faculty are dispersed across numerous states.  Thus, many faculty have limited opportunities to engage with other like-minded faculty around mutual research interests for possible collaborations within research projects and other scholarship opportunities.  As a chair of the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR), it is important to strategically seek opportunities that allow faculty to best work together in virtual environments; thus, I have recently assembled several virtual research teams  (VRTs) within the center.

Virtual research teams serve numerous purposes within the research center setting.  Foremost, faculty have increased opportunities to collaborate with like-minded faculty to construct research and scholarship that provides meaningful contributions within their fields.  Ladeshewsky (2016) notes the high levels of isolation many faculty in online teaching environments experience due to the physical detachment from the parent structure and lack physical engagement with colleagues.  In response, virtual research teams allow for greater access to colleagues, as teams can regularly interact using conference calling capabilities or video software applications.  Lastly, VRTs serve as channels for meeting existing scholarship requirements set forth by the Higher Learning Commission (“Determining Qualified Faculty,” 2017), as incorporated by the University.

Within the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research, VRTs are categorized as either special interest groups (SIGs), topic-specific research teams or targeted-scholarship project teams.  Each SIG provides a way to assemble faculty in a meaningful way around topics of interest that fall within the scope of the center’s mission, vision, and research agenda.  Special interest groups are classified as VRTs, as they are assembled in a virtual space and are focused on specific topics of interest for the purposes of engaging in scholarly dialogue and furthering scholarship within respective fields (“Special Interest Groups,” 2017).  Membership is open within all SIGs within the research hub and center members can join as many as they wish.The Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research sponsors activities within the following SIGS:

Topic-specific research teams are ad hoc teams tasked to explore a specific topic or issue.  While SIGS have a wider range of subjects and projects represented under a categorical umbrella, topic-specific research groups are amassed with the responsibility of examining scholarship possibilities around one key topic. The ultimate product of these explorations includes the development of an achievable research project or publication for the group, while filling a gap within a body of literature.  For instance, as a research agenda initiative for CWDIR, a topic-specific research team is currently tasked with exploring millennials in the workplace from various lenses with the objective of creating a new research endeavor for this team.

Finally, targeted-scholarship teams are another type of ad hoc teams with a distinct purpose within the research center.  Often, scholars rely on “calls” from academic- or industry-focused organizations for notice of open scholarship opportunities.  These are often presented as calls for book chapters, calls for proposals, calls for journal articles, and calls for conference presentations.  Once a call is identified, the university research chair sends notification of the call to center members, including a solicitation for interested members to form collaborations to develop scholarship related to the call.

Although there is the need for further exploration within the dynamics and effectiveness of virtual research teams, in practice, these teams are emerging as effective vessels for research and scholarship creation within online learning environments. Accordingly, as a part of the CWDIR research agenda, a topic-specific research team will be formed to explore the effectiveness of new special interest groups as they work together to satisfy the requirements of their own respective research agendas. This, within itself, should provide a wealth of new knowledge within this emerging field of both empirical research and practice.



Hanebuth, A. (2015). Success factors of virtual research teams - does distance still matter?  Management Revue, 26(2), 161-179. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1688/mrcv-2015-02-Hanebuth

Higher Learning Commission. (n.d.) Determining qualified faculty.  Retrieved from https://www.hlcommission.org/Publications/determining-qualified-faculty....

Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2016). The virtual professor and online teaching, administration and research: Issues for globally dispersed business faculty. Journal of Distance Education (Online), 31(2), 1-15. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/docview/1863562708?...

The University of Phoenix. (n.d.) Become a faculty member. Retrieved from http://www.phoenix.edu/faculty/become-a-faculty-member.html

The University of Phoenix. (n.d.) Special interest groups. Retrieved from https://research.phoenix.edu/content/special-interest-groups


Glenda Shepherd's picture Glenda Shepherd | November 24, 2017 7:41 pm MST

It seems highly relevant that this topic of research is pursued, given the icreased importance of the virtual envoironment in academia. Ten years ago, considering virtual research teams would have been unheard of. However, we now have professors all over the country teaching for a single university, which presents a unique opportunity to collaborate with diversed professionals with similiar research interests. The possiblities for research opportunities could be endless and acessing academics outside one's geographical area could prove to be an incredible asset. 

Rehema Underwood's picture Rehema Underwood | February 26, 2018 6:19 pm MST

Greetings Glenda, and  Dr. Underewood!

Great topic! Glenda , I concur with your comment regarding  the endless possiblilties in research opportunities! Speaking from personal experience, as a member of a virtual research team, I find it a very rewarding experience sharing innovative ideas with diverse professionals :)  Thanks for sharing your thoughts!




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