How to Manage Virtual Teams by Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst in MIT Sloan Review posits that virtual teams can outperform co-located teams, provided the end-to-end collaboration process – from selecting team members to delivering results – is carefully managed. The key findings of their study are:
- Virtual nature of the team is not necessarily detrimental to its performance; rather, the performance depends on team’s task-related processes
- Any level of “dispersion" – even small levels – impacts team performance
- Social skills and self-sufficiency of potential members are the key ingredients for assembling effective virtual teams
The article outlines the benefits and challenges of virtual team collaboration. The authors then recommend the do’s and don’t of the collaboration in virtual teams.
Benefits of Virtual Teams – better decision-making and outcomes:
- Optimal integration of different pools of expertise and experiences in performing specific tasks
- Exposing team members to more extensive and heterogeneous sources of information, work experience, feedback and networking opportunities
- Potentially bringing to bear international vantage points on a particular project, despite the inherent challenges posed by such national diversity.
Challenges of Virtual Teams – task-related and socio-emotional:
- Communicating effectively, leading to a poor understanding of shared goals, approach and deliverables
- Developing clear task-related processes
- Collaborating to leverage fully the team talent and expertise
- Establishing total commitment and trust
As we see, the benefits and challenges of virtual teams are similar to those of co-located teams. Accentuation of the benefits and challenges for virtual teams makes virtual teams both appealing and complicated.
Recommendations for Managing Virtual Teams:
- Emphasize teamwork skills
- Promote self-leadership across the team
- Provide face-to-face meetings
- Foster a global culture
In addition, we would recommend establishing clear expectations, performance objectives, and ongoing review, feedback and support mechanisms.
Again, these recommendations apply equally to co-located teams but their relevance and importance is heightened in managing virtual teams.
In related posts, we have offered our points-of-view on effectively engaging people in collaboration:
- Mind the Language Barrier: This issue crops up more and more frequently with more international meetings and collaborative projects. The post provides guidance on how to manage the language barrier.
- Second Life as Collaboration Tool: We address the issue of the virtual community approach versus face-to-face meetings.
- Team Leader Must Lead THROUGH the Tools: We propose that the team leader must rigorously use the selected tools, regardless which ones, to manage the entire process. We include specific examples of behavior and actions for the team leader.
- "Collaborative" as Key Job Skill: While the post deals with recruiting people who are “collaborative,” the same idea applies to selecting team members for collaboration.
- What about Me, Person 2.0?: Effectiveness of the person in teams must be facilitated, for effective collaboration outcomes.
- Collaboration Is About People, Not Technology: Technology & tools take up a huge bit of attention. Discussions on collaboration tend to lack a focus on how to make people want to harness this potential.
- Measuring Collaboration: Collaboration is a means, results are the end. So what is the right measure?
- Organizational Challenges: How the organization of today must evolve or perish.
In addition, we include a section on Engaging People in our All Collaboration Directory which offers the best-of-the-web articles on collaboration Strategy and Context, Engaging People, Collaboration Process, and Tools and Technology.
A couple of relevant articles on managing teams from our directory are:
- Eight ways to build a great team (collaboration in large work teams). Research into team behavior at 15 multinational companies discovered that teams that are large, virtual, diverse and made up of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial. Yet, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. The article proposes eight factors that lead to success: 1. Investing in signature relationship practices, 2. Modelling collaborative behaviour, 3. Creating a “gift culture,” 4. Ensuring the requisite skills, 5. Supporting a strong sense of community, 6. Assigning team leaders that are both task and relationship-oriented, 7. Building on heritage relationships, and 8. Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity. This article is based on Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J Erickson published in the Harvard Business Review.
- Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams. Key ideas from the Harvard Business Review article by Lynda Gratton, Tamara J. Erickson, categorized by: What Executives Can Do, What HR Can Do, and What Team Leaders Can Do.
See Related Posts:
- You Have Been Asked to Run a Complex Collaboration Project... Now What?
- Collaboration Is More than Team Building and Management
- The Four Ps of Effective Collaboration
- The 4Ps of Effective Collaboration - Redux
- Managing Complexity in Collaboration Demands Rigor
- Cultural Assumptions and Challenges
- Use Visuals to Improve Collaboration Effectiveness
- Get Teammates to Move "Towards" Rather than "Away"
- Collaboration: Building and Sustaining Trust
- Avoiding a Bad Communication
- Current Practices in Virtual Team Management
- Mind the Language Barrier
- You Couldn't Do This By TelePresence
- Second Life as Collaboration Tool