Virtual teaming

Virtual teaming, that is, working on teams whose members are not present in the same location, is a fact of our modern, globalized business world. Virtual (or diverse and dispersed) teams are prevalent not only in multinational companies with offices in different countries, but also in academic and non-governmental institutions with bases across the world.

Managing performance is a difficult task in the virtual realm, and it requires extra time and effort to avoid common pitfalls. For instance, virtual team leaders need to not only account for practical matters such as scheduling across time zones, but also technical issues such as varying rates of connectivity and access to communication platforms. But perhaps the element with the biggest impact on diverse and dispersed teams’ collaboration is the cultural differences of the team’s members.

One of the best ways virtual team leaders can effectively manage performance is by providing structure. Some ways to do this could be:

· Setting clear objectives and goals with input from team members
· Creating a specific, step-by-step plan, which should be discussed with the whole team
· Establishing and agreeing upon milestones with individual members and with the whole team
· Giving frequent and clear feedback to each team member during any group communication, and individually if the message is sensitive
· Checking progress frequently using multiple avenues for communication, including teleconferences and web-based meetings, in addition to email

On that final point, it is essential to choose the right communication platform to effectively manage team performance, and for the team leader to agree with the team members which method they will use, and at what intervals.

Finally, understanding the communication preferences of team team, such as whether they prefer indirect or direct communication, or are high or low context, can help the team leader find the best way to convey a message so that their point gets across clearly and work flows smoothly.

Though there can be challenges to working in diverse and dispersed teams, they are a fact of modern work life. The good news is that, when managed well, virtual teams can be as effective and productive as their traditional equivalents.

Back to Navigating Culture Blog