Virtual R&D Teams: A potential growth of education-industry collaboration

Scientific Essay, 2011

4 Pages


Abstract —In this paper, we present our more than two years research experiences on virtual R&D teams in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and draws conclusions, giving special attention to the structure of virtual teams required to support education-industry collaboration. We report the relevant results of an online survey study. The online questionnaire was emailed by using a simple random sampling method to 947 manufacturing SMEs. The findings of this study show that SMEs in Malaysia and Iran are willing to use virtual teams for collaboration and the platform for industry-education collaboration is ready and distance between team members or differences in time zones, are not barriers to industry-education collaborations.

Keywords —Collaboration, virtual teams, SMEs, Education

I. Introduction

With the advent of the global economy and high-speed Internet, online collaboration is fast becoming the norm in education and industry [1]. Information technology (IT) creates many new inter-relationships among businesses, expands the scope of industries in which a company must compete to achieve tcompetitive advantage. Information systems and technology allow companies to coordinate their activities in distant geographic locations [2]. IT is providing the infrastructure necessary to support the development of new collaboration forms among industry and education. Virtual research and development (R&D) teams represent one such relational form, one that could revolutionize the workplace and provide organizations with unprecedented levels of flexibility and responsiveness [3-4]. Virtual teams give many advantages to organizations, including increased knowledge sharing [5] and improve organizational performance [6]. Virtual teams have altered the expectations and boundaries of knowledge worker’s interactions. Many R&D organizations and teams currently use a specialized knowledge portal for research collaboration and knowledge management [7]. Hence, the move towards a virtual world is becoming ever more relevant to industry and education as organizations outsource activities across national geographic boundaries [8].

The purpose of this study is to extend the research finding of virtual R&D teams in small and medium-sized enterprises to industry-education collaboration. The further outline of this paper is as first, discuss the different aspects of virtual teams and its relationships with SMEs, and then briefly explore the research methodology. Following, elaborate on the empirical findings and finally, analysis the data and conclude the paper.

II. Aspects of virtual teams

A. Definition of Virtual Team

Gassmann and Zedtwitz [9] defined “virtual team as a group of people and sub-teams which interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose and work across links strengthened by information, communication, and transport technologies”. Different authors have identified diverse definition [10]. Reference [11] developed one of the most comprehensive and widely accepted definitions of virtual teams: “virtual team is the small temporary groups of geographically, organizationally and/or time dispersed knowledge workers who coordinate their work, predominantly with electronic information and communication technologies in order to accomplish one or more organization tasks”.

B. Benefits and pitfalls of virtual teams

The availability of a flexible and configurable base infrastructure is one of the main advantages of agile virtual teams [11]. Virtual team may allow people to collaborate with more productivity at a distance [12]. Virtual teams reduce time-to-market [13]. Lead time or time to market has been generally admitted to be one of the most important keys for success in manufacturing companies [14]. A potential advantage of virtual teams is their ability to digitally or electronically unite experts in highly specialized fields working at great distances from each other [15]. Virtual teams are enlightening and managing creativity [16] and useful for projects that require cross-functional or cross boundary skilled inputs [17].

As a drawback, virtual teams are particularly weak at mistrust, communication and power struggles [15]. Cultural and functional diversity in virtual teams leads to differences in the members thought processes [18]. Virtual teams will not totally replace conventional teams. Although virtual teams are and will continue to be an important and necessary type of work arrangement, they are not appropriate for all circumstances [19]. Hence, the complexity of management and coordination to choose the best collaboration tools will increases.

III. SMEs and Virtual teams

SMEs need to focus on core competences for efficiency matters; they need to cooperate with external partners such as an educational institute to compensate for other competences and resources. Reference [20] found that managers of SMEs should invest less in tangible assets, but more in those areas that will directly generate their future competitive advantage (e.g., in R&D to generate knowledge, and in their employees’ creativity to stimulate incremental innovations in already existing technologies). The combination of explosive knowledge growth and inexpensive information transfer creates a fertile soil for unlimited virtually invention [21]. While, it is widely known that many big corporations have already invested in the information technology (IT) as they have come to realize the advantages and the competitive edge they will gain from IT. It is believed that SMEs, without investing heavily in total solution systems, can still benefit from the available information technology [22]. Virtuality has been presented as one solution for SMEs aiming to increase their competitiveness [23]. The SMEs are one of the sectors that have a strong potential to benefit from advances of virtual teams and the adaptation of new collaboration modes [24].


[1] R. Ubell, Ed., Virtual Teamwork: Mastering the Art and Practice of Online Learning and Corporate Collaboration John Wiley & Sons, Inc., June 2010, p.^pp. Pages.

[2] M. Fathian, et al., "E-readiness assessment of non-profit ICT SMEs in a developing country: The case of Iran," Technovation, vol. 28, pp. 578-590, 2008.

[3] A. Powell, et al., "Virtual teams: a review of current literature and directions for future research," The Data base for Advances in Information Systems, vol. 35, pp. 6–36, 2004.

[4] N. Ale Ebrahim, et al., "Virtual Teams for New Product Development – An Innovative Experience for R&D Engineers," European Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 1, pp. 109-123, 2009.

[5] D. J. Pauleen, "An Inductively Derived Model of Leader-Initiated Relationship Building with Virtual Team Members," Journal of Management Information Systems, vol. 20, pp. 227-256, 2003.

[6] S. A. Furst, et al., "Managing the life cycle of virtual teams," Academy of Management Executive, vol. 18, pp. 6-20, 2004.

[7] H. J. Lee, et al., "A contingent approach on knowledge portal design for R&D teams: Relative importance of knowledge portal functionalities," Expert Systems with Applications, vol. 36, pp. 3662-3670, 2009.

[8] A. Williams, et al., "Virtual environments: lessons from industry transferred to distance-learning education," in The Queensland University of Technology, Research Week International Conference, Brisbane, Australia, 2005.

[9] O. Gassmann and M. Von Zedtwitz, "Trends and determinants of managing virtual R&D teams," R&D Management, vol. 33, pp. 243-262, 2003.

[10] N. Ale Ebrahim, et al., "Virtual Teams: a Literature Review," Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, vol. 3, pp. 2653-2669, 2009.

[11] N. Ale Ebrahim, et al., "Virtual R & D teams in small and medium enterprises: A literature review," Scientific Research and Essay, vol. 4, pp. 1575–1590, December 2009.

[12] O. Gassmann and M. Von Zedtwitz, Innovation Processes in Transnational Corporations: Elsevier Science Ltd, 2003.

[13] A. May and C. Carter, "A case study of virtual team working in the European automotive industry," International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, vol. 27, pp. 171-186, 2001.

[14] M. Sorli, et al., "Managing product/process knowledge in the concurrent/simultaneous enterprise environment," Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, vol. 22, pp. 399–408, 2006.

[15] B. Rosen, et al., "Overcoming Barriers to Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Teams," Organizational Dynamics, vol. 36, pp. 259–273, 2007.

[16] V. Badrinarayanan and D. B. Arnett, "Effective virtual new product development teams: an integrated framework," Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, vol. 23, pp. 242-248, 2008.

[17] L. Lee-Kelley and T. Sankey, "Global virtual teams for value creation and project success: A case study," International Journal of Project Management vol. 26, pp. 51–62, 2008.

[18] L. Poehler and T. Schumacher, "The Virtual Team Challenge: Is It Time for Training?," presented at the PICMET 2007, Portland, Oregon - USA 2007.

[19] J. E. Nemiro, "The Creative Process in Virtual Teams " Creativity Research Journal, vol. 14, pp. 69 - 83, 2002.

[20] O. Gassmann and M. M. Keupp, "The competitive advantage of early and rapidly internationalising SMEs in the biotechnology industry: A knowledge-based view," Journal of World Business, vol. 42, pp. 350-366, 2007.

[21] R. E. Miles, et al., " " Long Range Planning, vol. 33, pp. 300-321, 2000.

[22] A. V. Mohan, et al., "Efficacy of virtual organization concept in enhancing business operations: a case study in Malaysian fashion (footwear) industry," in Portland International Conference on Management of Engineering and Technology (PICMET '99), Portland, OR ,USA, 1999, p. 499 vol.1.

[23] T. Pihkala, et al., "Virtual organization and the SMEs: a review and model development," Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, vol. 11, pp. 335 - 349, 1999.

[24] N. Ale Ebrahim, et al., "SMEs and Virtual R&D Teams: A Motive Channel for Relationship between SMEs," in The International Conference for Technical Postgraduates (TECHPOS 2009), The Legend Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2009, pp. 1-7.

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Virtual R&D Teams: A potential growth of education-industry collaboration
The University of Malaya  (Faculty of Engineering)
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ISBN (eBook)
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439 KB
ALE EBRAHIM, N., AHMED, S. &amp, TAHA, Z. 2011. Virtual R&amp,amp,D Teams: A potential growth of education-industry collaboration. Academic Leadership Journal, 9, 1-5.
Virtual R&D teams, Nader Ale Ebrahim, Virtual team
Quote paper
Nader Ale Ebrahim (Author)Shamsuddin Ahmed (Author)Zahari Taha (Author), 2011, Virtual R&D Teams: A potential growth of education-industry collaboration, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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