Virtual Team

What is Virtual Team?

A Virtual Team – also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) – is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened 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.

Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location

Reason for Virtual Team

Reasons for virtual teams center around the differences in time and space for team members.

  • Team members may not be physically collocated.
  • It may not be practical to travel to meet face-to-face.
  • Team members may work different shifts

Specifically, teams may be distributed because of the new realities facing organizations such as:

  • organization-wide projects or initiatives
  • alliances with different organizations, some of which may be in other countries
  • mergers and acquisitions
  • emerging markets in different geographic locations
  • the desire of many people and government organizations for telecommuting
  • the continuing need for business travel and information and communications technologies available to support this travel
  • a need to reduce costs
  • a need to reduce time-to-market or cycle time in general (the increasing velocity in business)

Benefits of the virtual teams

  • Best employees may be located anywhere in the world.
  • Workers demand personal flexibility.
  • Workers demand increasing technological sophistication.
  • A flexible organization is more competitive and responsive to the marketplace.
  • Workers tend to be more productive – less commuting and travel time.
  • The increasing globalization of trade and corporate activity.
  • The global workday is 24 vs. 8 hours.
  • The emergence of environments which require inter-organizational cooperation as well as competition.
  • Changes in workers’ expectations of organizational participation.
  • A continued shift from production to service/knowledge work environments.
  • Increasing horizontal organization structures characterized by structurally and geographically distributed human resources.

Main challenges in virtual teams

  • Not every type of project is suitable for a virtual organization.
  • Not everyone can perform well in a virtual team environment, the members should be self motivated and able to work independently.
  • The team member should be able to communicate clearly.
  • Result-orientation, unless the person shows clear results.
  • Managers of virtual teams also need to pay much more attentions to maintaining clear goals, performance standards, and communication rules.
  • Building and maintaining trust between the team members.

How to handle the challenge and managing the team

  • Include face-to-face time if at all possible.
  • Keep the Project Visible
  • Avoid or Reduce Communications Delays
  • Keep Team Members Visible
  • Augment Text Only Communications
  • Use Computer Supported Cooperative Work Technologies Where Possible
  • Establish Ground Rules or Group Norms
  • Take Time Out for Self-assessment
  • Recognize People
  • Learn from Experience

Types of Virtual Teams

  • Networked Teams consist of individuals who collaborate to achieve a common goal or purpose; membership is frequently diffuse and fluid.
  • Parallel Teams work in short term to develop recommendations for an improvement in a process or system; has a distinct membership.
  • Project or Product-Development Teams conduct projects for users or customers for a defined period of time. Tasks are usually nonroutine, and the results are specific and measurable; team has decisionmaking authority.
  • Work or Production Teams perform regular and ongoing work usually in one function; clearly defined membership.
  • Service Teams support customers or the internal organization in typically a service/technical support role around the clock.
  • Management Teams work collaboratively on a daily basis within a functional division of a corporation.
  • Action Teams offer immediate responses activated in (typically) emergency situations.

How to develop virtual team

  • Secure a project-based idea conducive to collaboration.
  • Build a business plan to include the team vision, purpose and goal.
  • Identify critical players to support the project.
  • Select people who can contribute their core competencies to the project.
  • Enlist their service.
  • Establish an initial meeting with members to lay down the groundwork, set guidelines and processes.
  • Strategically align all members to the projects goal.
  • Set a timeline.
  • Monitor activities and progress.


Effective Virtual Team Meetings

Four major roles to be fulfilled for effective virtual team meetings:

  • Owner: defines objectives and outcomes; works with facilitator to develop agenda and action items.
  • Participant: prepares for meeting; participates fully.
  • Facilitator: matches technology to the goals of the meeting; tests the technology prior to the meeting; responsible for meeting process (similar to face-to-face role).
  • Technologist: serves the meeting; should increase productivity. If technology is complex, a separate facilitator, or “technographer” is sometimes used to focus solely on the technology (is typically not a team member).

Five activities for all virtual meetings:

  • Selecting the appropriate technology and type of interaction (real time or asynchronous), given the purpose of the meeting; match the technology to specific agenda items and facilitation goals.
  • Manage the agenda, the participants, and the technology.
  • Leverage the agenda and use of technology to maximize recall, the opportunity to contribute, motivate, and reduce social pressure.
  • Make use of social protocols and best practices for selected technology.
  • Facilitating the effective use of technology; have a backup or contingency plan.

The following matrix assist the virtual team facilitator choose the appropriate technology based upon the purpose of the meeting:

technology matrix

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