This research project focuses on helping virtual teams achieve greater success through the management of virtual team polarities. Polarities are ongoing pairs that appear to be in opposition to each other, but in truth, they’re complimentary and interdependent. Our theory is that teams who understand and are able to leverage these polarities will achieve and maintain greater effectiveness over time. Given the explosive growth in virtual teams worldwide, developing effective virtual teams is rapidly becoming a core business competency and a competitive advantage.


  • Enhanced team leadership through polarity thinking. The ability to see, frame, and reframe unsolvable situations is a critical skill for making a better future in the VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
  • Development of practical knowledge and tools help HR professionals with strategic planning, organizational development, training and development planning, as well as implementing policies and procedures to support virtual teams.

Current State of the Project:

  • Our target sample was a total of 120 virtual teams. We recruited 140 teams from 56 for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations from a wide variety of industries (e.g., manufacturing, education, technology, food/beverage, healthcare, philanthropy/humanitarian aid) and geographic regions (e.g., Asia, Oceania, Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, North America).
  • All Time 1 data collection has been completed. All mid-point data collection has been completed. Time 2 data collection is underway and is scheduled to be completed by June 30th, 2016.

Emerging Findings:

  • Preliminary analyses confirmed managed polarities is positively related to virtual team effectiveness (team performance, team viability, team satisfaction).
  • None of team diversity variables (i.e., diversity of gender, age, education, team tenure, position, geographic region of origin) or physical distance variables (i.e., average time difference, maximum time difference) were significantly related to the teamwork polarities. However, team commitment exhibited a positive relationship with team polarities, and had significant interactions with member maximum time difference and with team geographic origin diversity. These findings are consistent with the polarity theoretical argument for the individual – team polarity; team effectiveness requires individuals who can work apart effectively and bring their diverse individual perspectives together to work as a unified team. Stated differently, to enhance team polarities and in turn team effectiveness, it is not enough to have diverse team members, both diversity and unity are required.
  • Although the Time 2 data, which would allow us to speak to the efficacy of the interventions is not yet complete. Anecdotally, we have received some very positive feedback from study participants. Learning about polarities and how to leverage them is making a difference in team growth and progress.

Connect With Our Team:

Contact Jean Leslie, Emily Hoole, or Lisa Lopez to find out more about this project.


John Mathieu, Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Margaret Luciano, Ph.D., University of Arizona
SHRM Foundation
Polarity Partnerships


  • Polarity management: Identifying and managing unsolvable problems. Johnson, B. (1992).
  • Johnson, B. 2014. Reflections: A perspective on paradox and its application to modern management. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50(2): 206-212.