Challenges of working in a virtual team: compare and contrast with face to face
How roles are decided, how conflict is handled, team dynamics is shaped and formed
A virtual team is one whose members share a common purpose, but are separated by distance, time, and organizational boundaries. In such a team, members are linked only by communication technologies.
For example, a software development team may have members in the United States, India, Taiwan, and Brazil, and their only communication may be through the Internet, telephone, and video conferencing technologies.
As such, virtual team members face unique challenges at every stage of their development and performance cycle. Yet, as with conventional teams, there is no greater opportunity for building an effective virtual team than at its start up. Like a thoroughbred running in a horse race, the difference between success and failure is often determined by how they come "out of the chute."
Key Findings (Comparison with face to face)
? Working in virtual teams is challenging. Virtual teams have less effective performance and communication, and take longer to complete tasks than face-to-face teams.
Implications: Specific organizational strategies and systems are needed to assist virtual teams in their quest for success.
? If team members are familiar with each other prior to becoming part of the team, they are able to perform almost as effectively as face-to-face teams.
Implications: When designing a virtual team, allocate time for the team members to meet face-to-face and establish a working relationship prior to their work as a virtual team.
? Virtual team communication improves when meetings are synchronous using computer conferencing, meaning there is a continuous exchange of information and a specific concentrated time to focus on the team's task.
Implications: To improve team communication and effectiveness, have a set meeting time for team members to communicate via computer or video conferencing.
? Complex judgment tasks--tasks that do not have a correct answer, are complex, and require that the group reach consensus on a selected alternative--resulted in the lowest performance for virtual teams vs. face-to-face teams.
Implications: To increase team performance, assign less complex tasks such as idea generation or intellective tasks-tasks that involve solving problems that have a correct answer-- to virtual teams; they are easier for the team to perform effectively.
? Virtual teams consistently take longer to complete tasks than face-to-face teams.
Implications: Allocate additional time for tasks that will be completed by virtual teams.
There are several recommended approaches for building a strong foundation for a newly created virtual team. Included are:
? Establishing a Well Understood Purpose (Mission, goals, tasks, results)
? Clarifying Stakeholder Expectations
? Understanding Team Membership
? Clear and Complimentary of Roles and Responsibilities
? Building Rapport and Relationships
? Instituting Communication Practices and Protocols
More so than conventional teams, virtual teams need to be more proactive, deliberate, explicit, and disciplined in addressing these areas.
Establishing a Well-Understood Purpose
"You must look at purpose. Only when you have that right can you get from here to there". Will Hutsell, Corporate Quality, Eastman it is often said "If you don't know where you're going, you can't expect to get there." This is a key factor for all teams, virtual or otherwise. Yet, because of the complexity of working together through time, distance, and organizational boundaries, it is especially critical for building the effective virtual team.
"The best predictor of a virtual team's success is in the clarity of its purpose and the participatory processes by which the group ...
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