Article (April-2018)


Management challenges with virtual teams

Dr. P.B.S. Kumar

Designation : -   HOD, HR-Admn. & IR

Organization : -  Aker Solutions India Sdn.Bhd., Kakinada (A.P.)


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This era is growing popularity for virtual team structures in organizations. Martins in a major review of the literature on virtual teams conclude that 'with rare exceptions, all organizational teams are virtual to some extent'. We have moved away from working with people who are in our visual proximity to working with people around the globe. Although virtual teamwork is a current topic in the literature on global organizations, it has been problematic to define what 'virtual' means across multiple institutional context. It is worth mentioning that virtual teams are often formed to overcome geographical or temporal separations. Virtual teams work across boundaries of time and space by utilizing modern computer - driven technologies. The term "virtual team" is used to cover a wide range of activities and forms of technology - supported working. Virtual teams are comprised of members who are located in more than one physical location. This team trait has fostered extensive use of a variety of forms of computer - mediated communication that enable geographically dispersed members to coordinate their individual efforts and inputs. From the perspective of virtual, teams are groups of individuals collaborating in the execution of a specific project while geographically and often temporally distributed, possibly anywhere within (and beyond) their parent organization. The degree of geographic dispersion within a virtual team can vary widely from having one member located in a different location than the rest of the team to having each member located in a different country or within the organisation.
The prevalence of virtual teams, which operate across geographic location, time zones and culture, continues to grow at an exponential pace. Want to make sure your virtual team is built on a solid foundation for success? Here are some ingredients to consider:
Ensure a clear understanding of team member's roles and responsibilities
As a virtual team, the need to clearly define roles and responsibilities becomes even more paramount than in face to face team environments. As a manager, or even team member, it is critical that team members (and managers) fully understand their roles and responsibilities, reporting relationships, as well as where roles and responsibilities overlap. If you are part of a virtual team, are you clear on this?
Negotiate matrix management relationships
A matrix management structure exists when a professional may be managed by two different managers, delineated often by projects they are involved with. Given the nature of virtual teams, individual members may often be part of a matrix management reporting process. It is quite common for virtual team members to report to face to face manager in their home location, as well as their main virtual team manager who may be in a different time zone or continent. If this is the case, it is often beneficial to have a three way discussion between both managers and the staff member, ensuring that everyone has a common understanding regarding who manages what, what reporting relationships exist, how work processes will be weighted and prioritized.

Equip team members with skills to work across differences
Given that virtual teams are often global in nature, or even cross - continental, it is important that cultural differences are understood. Staff should also be equipped with skills and tools to work with diversity. Differences may exist along several continuums, including varying priorities, language, as well as the concept of time and management approaches. Exploring individual cultural differences within the team can be an important process, as well as creating a "common ground" and ways of working for the team.
Create opportunities for face-to-face interaction
The effectiveness of virtual teams can be greatly enhanced by budgeting and planning for face-to-face interaction at least once a year (preferably even more frequently).
A multi - day in person retreat can serve as a forum for getting to know each other and creating a shared vision for the team and its work. Other topics that may flow out of a session like this could be to discuss strategic directions, create a shared work plan, milestones, and a protocol for meetings and communication. The presence of trust is often noted as a condition for virtual team success.
Develop a common vision
A shared common vision understood by all virtual team members acts as an important anchor for decision making, accountability and results. There are a number of vision processes which can be undertaken depending on the needs of the client. Developing this in a face-to-face session, at the start of the virtual team creation is ideal, although creating this mid - stream will also bring benefits to the team.
Create an environment of trust
The presence of trust within a virtual team is often cited by researchers as a condition for success. What can you do to foster trust within your team? What systems may need to be developed? What actions will build trust according to the different team members? Keep in mind that the concept of trust can mean different things to different generations, cultures and individuals.
Provide effective leadership for the team
Effective leadership for the team enables the foundation of the team to be further leveraged and built upon. Skills required by virtual team managers can differ from the skill sets of a face to face manager. Are you providing enough space for team members to do their jobs? Are you trying to micro - manage? Are you providing the resources that your team needs? Are you removing obstacles as they appear for the team? How are your influencing skills?
Virtual Teams can provide many opportunities for organizations including the opportunity to leverage often multi - disciplinary professionals from a range of cultural, geographical and even generational employees. Which factors of success will you focus in on today?