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Keys to Readiness Success

Page history last edited by Meghan! 9 years ago

When moving a team from a traditional ‘co-located’ team to a virtualteam there is a lot to think about.  “As teams become more virtual, they usually confront greateruncertainty and complexity because of distance, time, and cultural differences,thus increasing information processing and communication difficulties as theyattempt to complete their work tasks. Being almost completely virtual canamplify some of the challenges facing teams but can also amplify the benefitsof teamwork in several ways.” (Berry, 2011).  Companies and managers needto think about these challenges and benefits before they move to a virtualenvironment and understand how best to increase the success of a virtualteam.  There are several keys to thesuccess of virtual collaboration, including but not limited to communication,technology, trust, and culture. 


Communication and Its Impact on Virtual Teams


It may all seem so simple, butthings we take for granted every day, become more important than ever whenworking in a virtual team. For example, communication, we communicate daily andconstantly but when you think of how you can use communication as a tool forsuccessful virtual collaboration, I think of communication a littledifferently. It’s not purely the act of talking and waiting then waiting for aresponse. Communication in a virtual team is planning goals, active listeningand sharing with others in the team.


When planning goals, the team needsto agree what the goals are and get everyone on board to achieve them. Thereshould be a clear plan.  One way tomanage this plan in a virtual team is to document the plan, let the teamprovide feedback for the documented plan and then have the team sign off on the plan and goals of the team. If you wereplanning a dinner party with your neighbors and everyone forgot to bring thebread, it would be quite simple to solve that challenge by getting the breadfrom a store or one of the participates homes. On the other hand, when youdon’t have a necessity at a virtual meeting, that may bring the whole meetingto a halt. This is why planning goals and communicating that plan is importantin a virtual team.


Another important component tocommunication is active listening. Active listening becomes extremely importantin a virtual team because in a virtual meeting you lose body language andfacial expression that show a team member that you understand or don’tunderstand what they are talking about.  Whenone is actively listening, you are not waiting for the other person to stopspeaking so you can talk. You are giving your attention to the speaker and yourepeat key points back to make sure you have a clear understanding of what thespeaker was trying to convey.


Lastly, when you are communicatingeffectively, you are sharing knowledge and experiences. If you are not sharing,you defeat the purpose of working on a team. “Emphasize the importance ofknowledge sharing to team members and make sure you provide specific tools andsteps to properly capture information from individuals. Everyone on your teammust understand the critical nature of documenting and archiving in a sharedspace.” (Sherman, 2011).   Also this is agreat way to build trust and support within the team because you can’t assumethat the members of the team understand why you know what you know but if youtell them how you learned that piece of knowledge and what worked in the past theyare going to trust as well as open up with their experiences.  We work on a team to achieve more than we canas individuals because our team members bring more knowledge and experience tomake a more comprehensive pool of knowledge. “It’d be essential as it wouldhelp people understand how collaboration is a whole lot more than just worryingabout collaborative tools; it’s a mindset, it’s a change of habits, it’s ashift in mentalities going from a need to know to a need to share, it’s anopportunity to learn from one another sharing your knowledge with others andallowing it to grow further in order to achieve a specific task or a specific goal.”(Suarez, 2011).


Technology and Its Impact on Virtual Teams


Even after we have educated the teamon the importance of communication, our work is still not done. The technologywe will use to virtually collaborate needs to be introduced to the team. Thisis a great opportunity to learn the tool for virtual collaboration as well asan opportunity for team building. While everyone is learning the tool, they aregetting to know each other and building relationships and rapport within theteam.


“If you’re embarking on a virtualwork process, getting everyone on the same page about how you want the team towork together and how to use the systems you’ve deployed is key. Without aclear explanation and properly conducted training, team output is guaranteed tobe inconsistent at best. Because virtual team members don’t have the kind ofcontact one gets in an office environment, making sure they have access toeffective training materials and have the opportunity to ask questions asneeded is important to the success of the team.” (Sherman, 2011). Ademonstration of the collaboration tool is a great start but should not be theend of the training on the tool. Once team members use the tool, there willmost certainly be more questions and there should be a clear understandingwhere those questions should be directed. Furthermore, a follow-up training maybe in order to introduce the team to shortcuts and new ways to use the tool toits benefit. “Keep lines of communication open for subsequent queries.”(Sherman, 2011).


Also, good effective trainingmaterials are an excellent source. Training materials can cut down the amountof outside resources team members need in order to navigate the tool. The teamshould be comfortable with the tool so it is seen as a valuable asset to thesuccess of the team. Traditionally, these tools have been perceived as ahindrance, to change that perception, we need to start with a good tool andgood education on the use of the tool.


“Never underestimate providingenough, good, solid education, training and assistance to virtual teams inorder to help them understand how they can collaborate and share theirknowledge effectively by working smarter, not necessarily harder. You can neverhave enough education on not just running and managing virtual teams, but alsohow to be a good virtual team player.” (Suarez, 2011).


Trust and Its Impact on Virtual Teams


Most professionals working within avirtual team environment believe that trust is the greatest challenge for avirtual team and organization. “The traditional mindset of most organizations tendsto be arranged on the premise that people cannot be trusted or relied upon toprovide the simplest task.” (Kirkman, 2002).  It is unwise to trust peoplewhom you do not know well, whom you have not observed in action over time, andwho are not committed to the same goals. That same traditional way of thinkingsuggests that the only way to build trust is via face to face interaction. Asthe world becomes flat, organizations are beginning to understand the benefitof virtual teams and how important trust is to the success of the team.Developing trust is a process and therefore takes time to build. This processof developing and cultivating trust is established when people deliver whatthey promise and when everyone is contributing to the common goal. As a projectmanager or team lead make sure to start off right and talk about deadlines, hitthe deadlines that the team has set up and make sure that the team acknowledgesthese tasks in order to start building trust from the beginning.  Trust is never easy to establish; however,it's necessary if virtual teams expect to achieve any level of success. 


Culture and Its Impact on Virtual Teams


Culture creates barriers in virtualteams. “Most barriers come via the characteristics of their members. A majorand quite common factor affecting the effectiveness of a virtual team is thedifferences in culture of its members. Individuals from different culturalbackgrounds may have different beliefs, values, attitudes, competencies andperceptions of priority.” (Dafoulas and Macaulay, 2001).


Culture and how it impacts a virtualteam should not always have a negative connotation. There are benefits to havinga culturally diverse team. “For example, an IT organization will have access toa larger pool of computer skills, reduce software development time (by running24hour shifts with diverse teams), and decrease labor cost by outsourcingsoftware and development to low wage countries.” (Dafoulas and Macaulay, 2001).Again, these benefits require a great deal of trust as mentioned in the abovesection regarding trust and the impact trust has on virtual teams. Culture canalso have a negative impact as organizations try to understand how to managetime, communication and space. These areas may require more exploration asorganizations move to a more global platform.


“There are different types of culture that impact patterns of collaboration within a virtual team, such as:


  • National culture that is defined as a "collective mental programming" of the people of any particular nationality (Hofstede, 1980), (Hofstede, 1991), or as "inherited ethical habit" that can consist of an idea or value, or a relationship.” (Fukuyama, 1995).
  • Organizational or corporate culture that covers many facets of organizational life, including areas such as management styles, appraisals, rewards and communication styles used by employees. Corporate culture may be strong for the group but weak for individuals.
  • Professional culture that’s ingrained through highly structured formal education during formative years continued through training programs. This culture is reinforced through ongoing professional activities such as affiliation with associations. It is a profession for life. Moreover, professional cultures cross over national cultures.
  • Functional culture that is made up of norms and habits associated with functional roles within the organization.
  • “Team culture that emerges from common work experiences.” (Dafoulas and Macaulay, 2001)

Essentially, the success of avirtual team, as it relates to culture, is determined by how effectively thebehaviors manifested by culture are managed. Cultural diversity within a teamshould be welcomed and therefore embraced as organizations equip themselves tocompete on a global scale.


Back to Getting Teams Ready to Collaborate     Next Section - Conclusion     Back to Fall11 Projs


Bradley, K.L., Rosen, B. Gibson, C. B., Tesluk, P. E., McPherson, S. O. (2002). Five challenges to virtual team success: lessons from sabre, inc. Academy of Management Executive, 16 (3), p67-79. Retrieved from http://turbo.kean.edu/~jmcgill/sabre.htm

Dafoulas, G., & Macaulay, L. (2001). Investigating cultural differences in virtual software teams. Retrieved from http://www.ejisdc.org/ojs2/index.php/ejisdc/article/viewFile/37/37

Fukuyama, F "Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity". Harrish Hamilton 1995.

Hofstede, G. "Cultures and Organizations". McGraw-Hill, 1991.

Hofstede, G. "Cultures Consequences". Sage, 1980

Kirkman. (Aug. 2002). “Five challenges to virtual team success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc.”  http://turbo.kean.edu/~jmcgill/sabre.htm

Sherman, A. (2011). 5 Reasons Why Virtual Teams Fail. http://gigaom.com/collaboration/5-reasons-why-virtual-teams-fail/

Suarez, L. (2011). The art of collaborating effectively in virtual teams. Retrieved from http://www.elsua.net/2011/04/27/the-art-of-collaborating-effectively-in-virtual-teams/


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