Read the article. Do virtual teams benefit or harm group productivity? How should managers lead virtual teams, keeping in mind that team members or subordinates are at remote locations?
Martin White is a well-known face in the information management world. He has been the Managing Director of Intranet Focus, which provides consulting services related to intranet strategies, for over 15 years. In 2012, Intranet Focus launched a series of Research Notes on topics arising from their consulting work. Topics are broad-ranging but often touch on areas of interest to those working remotely.
Martin recently published a research note on Managing Virtual Teams. The extended research note provides an overview of good practice in managing virtual teams both in team meetings and between meetings. There are ten recommendations based on Martin's own experience of managing virtual teams dating back to 1975. Appendices set out the elements of a profile of virtual team members and also the structure of a training course that Intranet Focus delivers. An article by Martin on the management of virtual teams and virtual meetings was published in Business Information Review.
Although the current language of business speaks of 'collaboration' it does not speak of 'virtual collaboration' but of virtual teams. This is useful because not all teams work in a collaborative way with a common cause. A team can be defined as a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and who manage their relationship across organizational boundaries. A team, therefore, has a unity of purpose, a social structure, and its members share a common responsibility for outcomes which is not necessarily a common cause.
Probably the most comprehensive survey of virtual team adoption currently available was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit in late 2009.
The main reasons quoted in the report for establishing virtual teams were
The challenges of working in virtual teams were seen as
Building a virtual team takes a lot of care and effort. The considerations of language, location, time, and culture have to be taken into account in not only the selection of the staff concerned but also in setting up and managing each meeting. There may be potentially a key member of the virtual team who does not have good spoken language skills and it may be necessary to bring in an interpreter who themselves may not have the security clearance to be participating in the meeting.
Adding someone to the team may be required but removing someone could be very difficult. In a physical meeting situation, a quiet word to a manager may be effective, but in a virtual team, that call has to be made by 'phone, and the person who is asked to leave may feel that not enough has been done to enable them to contribute to the meeting. The newcomer may also change the dynamics and levels of trust in the team.
The word TEAM provides a useful mnemonic for virtual teams
Virtual teams have three dimensions to their operation
These need to be taken into account at all times in the planning, execution, and review of a virtual meeting. A simple '3D' graphic pinned to a desktop can be a valuable mnemonic.
Most multi-national companies adopt English as a corporate language for corporate communications, but certainly, companies outside of the USA are made aware every day that this is a guideline and not a command. This is especially the case in Europe where it is difficult to travel more than 500 miles from a city center without entering a country with a different language.
In meetings with attendees from different countries, it is often easier for them to understand English spoken as a second (or even third) language than English spoken by a native speaker because of the use of idioms and inadvertently complex sentence constructions. An important point that is often overlooked is that native speakers of English need to allow time between sentences to give others a chance to 'translate' concepts (rather than words) into their own language.
When planning virtual team meetings it is important to understand that there are four elements of language skills
Individual team members may have different levels of skill in each of these four areas, and making an assumption to the contrary could lead to major problems with understanding and with decision making.
The concept of location is also complex. Members of the virtual team could be on different floors of the same building, in different buildings, in different countries, and of course not even in a building at all but on a train, plane, or in a hotel dining room. With audio or Skype video conferences it might not be at all obvious where the attendees are actually sitting. The location may have an impact on ambient noise levels, on whether the attendee can be overhead by colleagues or strangers, and on whether it is possible for the attendee to write notes of the meeting. This mobile location component is increasingly important as mobile technology enables people to be away from their offices on a more extended basis.
Even a small company operating on a regional basis may want to include one or more of its employees with others in a virtual meeting. It is important to understand that even having one person phoning in to what otherwise would be a regular physical meeting will change the dynamics of the meeting. This is especially the case when the person leading the meeting tries to do so from a remote location, or even on vacation. This is because another aspect of location is the distribution effect. If the majority of the participants are in one location then they will be a dominant force in the discussion, especially if the leader of the meeting is also present at that location. They will also have the benefit of being able to see the body language of their colleagues and to time their contributions to the discussion.
Just some of the challenges of time in virtual meetings include different times to start and end the working day and public holidays being taken on different days (even in the UK!). We all want to manage our own diaries and feel uncomfortable when someone calls a meeting at an unsuitable time without prior consultation. Even if we can actually participate in the meeting we may do so in a less-than-constructive way. Even a small change in time, say from 9:00 to 8:30, could be very difficult for people commuting by public transport to accommodate easily.
In view of the increasing importance of virtual teams, companies should be providing training in how to manage virtual teams but very few do so. Team leaders in particular will need to gain some additional skills.
A team leader who is excellent in managing physical meetings may not be equally as proficient when managing virtual team meetings. If leading or even participating in virtual teams is a core activity then their performance should be included in annual performance appraisals.
Some companies have built a certification process into virtual team participation so that employees (and managers) initially build up expertise in single country/same time zone virtual meetings and then progress to managing complex multi-national, multi-cultural teams in due course.
My ten recommendations for getting the best out of virtual teams and virtual team meetings are
Source: Marieke Guy, https://remoteworker.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/virtual-teams-benefits-challenges/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.