A Vrtual Team is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strenghened by webs of communication technology. They have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
Virtual Team Sociology
Within the virtual connection is an opportunity for efficiency and team synergy unrealized in traditional teams and worker interaction. The realization of these possible outcomes is reliant upon the development of new sociology inclusive of all virtual team members with their varying geographies and cultures; including contingent workers from outside the immediate organization.
Leading and managing a virtual team can be more difficult than contending with a face-to-face group. Obviously one big problem with being in charge of a virtual team is the difficulty understanding and managing what you cannot see. In a Canadian study (Hambley et al., 2007) qualitative data were collected through comprehensive interviews with nine virtual team leaders and members form six different organizations. The most common challenge appears to involve solving problems across
Other issues involved with leading virtual teams include the following:
- Lack of facial and body language cues to validate team members.
- Fear of isolation.
- Changes in operating procedures.
- Demand for higher individual accountability because delays resulting from lack of preparedness are exacerbated and recovery takes longer (Wilson, 2003).
What does it take to lead and manage virtual team? Joyce Tompsen (2000) argues it takes at least the following five skills:
- Communicating effectively and using technology that fits the situation.
- Bulding community, based on mutual trust, respect, fairness and affiliation, amon project team members.
- Establishing clear and inspiring shared goals, expectations, purpose and vision.
- Leading by example with a focus on visible, measurable results.
- Coordinating/collaborating across organizational boundaries.
Because virtual leaders can use all the help they can get, the following are 17 "pointers" Kevin McMahan (2005) shares for managing a vitrual teams:
- Engage the team in setting expectations about behaviour and performance. Record the team's decision and commitments to each other.
- Clearly define member responsibilities.
- Use rigorous project management disciplines to ensure clarity.
- Consider servant leadership exposure and training for potential team leaders.
- Determine, as a team, how confilict will be addresses to ensure clarity.
- Encourage proactive behaviour, empathetic task communication, a positive tone, rotating leadership, task goal clarity, role division, time management and frequent interaction with acknowledged and detailed responses to previous message.
- Strive for a good faith effort in complying with the team norms and commitments, be honest in team negotiations and don't take advantage of others or of the situation.
- Encourage social communication that accompanies completing tasks at the outset and be enthusiastic in e-mail dialog; look for predictable, substantial and timely responses to members.
- Provide more formal commmunication that in traditional same time/same place teams.
- Keep communications in a shared database to use in new member orientations.
- Focus knowledge management attention on the tacit as well as the explicit knowledge. Document the tacit and embed the process into the organizational structure.
- Record and share the "context" when sharing information, preferably with a view toward future audiences.
- Match desired activities with performance evaluation factors; reward the desired performance.
- Build information sharing (knowledge management initiatives) into the organization's strategic plan.
- For a team crosscutting an ongragnization's departmental boundaries, develop an information system to help translate terms in the subject disciplines.
- Encourage and provide feedback on all team activities; listen to feedback!
- Design and integrate tools that fit the team anvironment; don't force the team to adapt its behaviour to the "latest" software.
Much advice about leading virtual teams revolves around fostering positive and respectful relationships among team members who hold each other accountable and support each other through difficult situations. The same also holds true of proffesional relationships in the onsite workplace, but virtual relationships face unique challenges that take more work to maintain and nurture. But, if a virtual team is right for your organization, the rewards can be worth the effort.