How to Manage Virtual Teams

Summary by Carina…

Teams are the building blocks of an organization. They provide companies with the means to combine

  • various skills,
  • talents, and
  • perspectives

of a group of individuals to achieve corporate goals.

“New Teams”

  • dispersed geographically
  • different cultural background
  • different languages
  • raised in different countries
  • with different value systems

Level of dispersion

  1. spatially separated
  2. temporally separated (time zones)
  3. configurationally uneven (5 people here, 2 there)
  4. culturally diverse

Virtual teams have tremendous opportunities despite their great managerial challenges.

(Potential) Cons Pros
  • difficulties in communication and coordination
  • reduced trust
  • increased inability to establish a common ground
  • physical distance
    • decreases closeness and affinity > greater potential for conflict
    • negotiate multiple time zones > reorganization of workdays to accommodate others’ schedules necessary > that could lead to frustration and confusion (especially if coworkers are unavailable for discussion or clarification of task-related issues
  • accomplish increasingly complex activities
  • cluster competencies in different centers of excellence
  • reduce costs
  • leverage global know-how
  • increased heterogeneity
  • structural diversity
  • enhance overall problem-solving capacity of the group

The Pros and Cons of Dispersion

Key drivers of performance are certain crucial team processes that, for example, help coordinate work and facilitate communication among members.

Team processes can be classified into two categories

  • Task related: Help ensure each member contributing fully
  • Socio-emotional: Increase the cohesion of the group, commit to the overall group goals, identify with the team, actively support the team spirit.

The overall effect of dispersion depends on the quality of the team’s task-related processes.

Managing dispersion

  • Don’t underestimate the significance of small distances: Effectiveness (quality of team output) and efficiency (time and cost) were noticeably lower with people located in the same building but on different floors. Team leaders easily underestimate the barriers to collaboration – they regularly underestimate the significance of small distances.

Team Performance in Relation to Dispersion

  • Emphasize teamwork skills: Don’t do the mistake of staffing on the basis of people expertise and availability but consider social skills (a major prerequisite for good teamwork).
  • Promote self-leadership across the team: Ensure the dispersed teams broad-based leadership capability. This highlights the need for people to be more self-sufficient and how they manage their own work because the team leader is less in a position to help.
  • Provide for face-to-face meetings: Face-to-face meetings are effective for initiating and maintaining key social processes that will encourage informal communication, team identification, and cohesion > Project kick off meeting. The expenses necessary can lead to large returns if the virtual team is able to take full advantage of its diverse expertise heterogeneity.
  • Foster a “global culture”: Global mindset in which people see themselves as part of an international network is helpful, e.g. move every 4 years to another subsidiary: Advances the development of diversity-friendly attitudes and the ability to work in different contexts, which in turn helps employees to cope with the challenges of distance when working on virtual teams.

Statements

  • The performance of teams suffer with increasing level dispersion.
  • Companies can take advantage of the diversity and varied expertise of team members at different locations.
  • A company can’t just assembly dispersed team top-notch talent and hope for the best > It needs to ensure that the necessary socio-emotional and task related processes are in place.

———-

Paper:

Siebdrat, F., Hoegl, M. & Ernst, H. (2009): How to Manage Virtual Teams. MIT Sloan Management Review 50(4). 63-68

Back to the overview…

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One comment on “How to Manage Virtual Teams

  1. Pingback: Master’s Program | Sebastian Kaiser

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