Virtual Teams


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Growth of the global markets and evolving businesses demands generates an institution of geographically dispersed virtual teams (McLean, 2007). Virtual teams operate in a global marketplace driven by competitive business pressure and customer demands for quicker and more innovative products and services. Coupled with the penetration of new markets, access to worldwide intellectual capital and the need to improve overall business performance, virtual teams are a corporate necessity. Virtual teams also promote organizational, individual, and task flexibility (Goold, Augar, & Farmer, 2006). Team members gain knowledge and develop skills and capabilities when working with other team members. Goold et al. explained that virtual teaming allows members to be more flexible in establishing the time and place of meetings and to explore the use of technology to enhance the accumulation, manage the compilation and analysis, and the application of economic data for business deliberations.


Credibility and Trust: Two of the most important team elements to manage are: (a) establishing a credible and functional work environment; and (b) creating a social setting that promotes trust and open communication. For many global teams, tensions arise when facing unrealistic deadlines, unreasonable business expectations, and uncooperative work behaviors. Many employees demonstrate lower work performance because of their inability to function in a virtual environment; where business stress is higher and the operational environment is dynamic. The inability of some members to work in a virtual environment creates a significant problem when a team is attempting to establish a credible and functional work culture (McLean, 2007). The creation of a full, open, and trustful social setting may be difficult if the geographical separation and lack of physical interaction between team members becomes cumbersome. The geographical and physical interaction constraints not only make trust difficult to establish under virtual teaming and but also complicates reestablishing trust when it has been lost (McLean, 2007). The latter may occur for various reasons such as lack of cooperative behavior and social acceptability between team members.

Face-to-face Interaction: The lack of face-to-face contact and nonverbal cues can diminish individual commitment and conviction within a virtual team (De Pillis & Furumo, 2007). Without the nonverbal communications, virtual team members may be reticent to present and share information. Depending on the structure of a virtual team, knowledge transfer may be sparse and insignificant. For example, non face-to-face interactions prevent team members from seeing and hearing each other, from receiving messages in real-time, and from sending and receiving information simultaneously. The loss of communications through facial expressions can lead to misinterpretations, which damages team cohesion and promotes conflict within the team. If team cohesion is lost, loss of team commitment, conviction, and trust generally follow (De Pillis & Furumo 2007).

Geography: For virtual teams to be successful, they must overcome the barriers of geographic and temporal separation that contribute to diminished team cohesiveness and trust and discordant work values. Diminished trust requires that team leaders organize, equip, and train employees to work on virtual teams. Malhotra, Majchrzak, and Rosen (2007) posited that a leader must gain the commitment of employees by removing the feelings of isolation in a virtual team environment, by building team cohesion, by establishing norms of collaboration and knowledge sharing, and by motivating team members to make a major commitment to the team’s mission of enhancing business performance.

Overcoming Inefficiencies

Technology: The increased application of virtual teams is aided by recent advances in computer networking environments and long haul communications (Driskell, Radtke, & Salas, 2003). The use of a virtual team is tempting for any business organization wishing to reduce operating facility costs, to lower employee travel times and to increase business efficiency with information technology tools. Research has shown that virtual communications are no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The use of computer-mediated environments negates certain face-to-face communications such as personal gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and postures which convey personal feelings and context. For example, the tone of speech, timing of speech, and responses allow participants to adjust to the conditions of the meeting.

Management: Furthermore, lack of face-to-face contact creates unique challenges for team leaders – overseeing virtual teams. However, team leaders and managers can make virtual teams more efficient when they: 1) establish and maintain trust through the use of communication technology; 2) ensure that distributed diversity is understood and appreciated; 3) manage virtual work-life cycle (such as meetings); 4) monitor team progress using technology; 5) enhance visibility of virtual members within the team and outside in the organization; and 6) enable individual members on the virtual team to benefit from the team (Malhotra et al.). In addition, the use of virtual teams in short duration projects has demonstrated a lowering of overall team performance, satisfaction reduced commitment, morale, and trust.

Optimizing Performance

Team Roles: Katzenbach and Smith (2005) posited that virtual teams cannot be instituted without understanding the peculiarities and dynamics of the virtual team. These authors described a team for making recommendations, a team for developing or servicing, and a team to managing. In the past, leaders often felt a single team could perform all the tasks associated with a project. However, team leaders discovered teams had difficulty organizing and performing the multiple business tasks associated with complex projects. Depending on the purpose of a virtual team, a team may require diverse skills, abilities, field experience, and information technology tools (Katzenbach & Smith).

Knowledge Transfer

Dani, Burns, Backhouse, and Kochhar (2006) noted the primary benefits of a virtual team leans toward an increased trust among knowledge workers; thereby improving the collaboration between individuals and groups. Companies are agile and able to respond to internal and external environmental influences that affect traditional organizational and management effectiveness ideas. Flexible and communicative virtual teams are better equipped to address the challenges and requirements of new technologies in manufacturing and distribution. Virtual teams are also driven by business needs that dictate the requirements for transferring knowledge between business partners, stakeholders, and customers. Moreover, virtual teams improve the competitive posturing of a firm in an effort to increase market presence within the global business environment (Dani et al., 2006).

Organizational Culture

While companies increase their use of virtual teams in the global economy, the cultural patterns between parent companies and partnering teams vary greatly. To optimize performance in a business operation, an organization needs to incorporate a mixture of acceptable behavioral and social factors to ensure the success of virtual teams (Roberts, Kossek, & Ozeki, 1998). Virtual communications must be task-oriented or structured within a global economy in a manner that produces the efficient transfer of information. However, information transfers maybe problematic because cultural differences and language limitations increase the likelihood of misunderstanding among team members. United States firms recruit in-country personnel to work on different product and service teams to mitigate cultural and lingual problems. Leaders of global corporations are predisposed to recruit foreign workers for virtual teams and to support cross cultural awareness and acceptance of differing cultural values and norms.


Unencumbered access to worldwide intellectual capital will result in superior decision-making and will improve overall business performance. Team leaders can address the problem of rebuilding credibility and optimizing business performance by creating compelling and challenging objectives that energize and motivate high performance synergizing four key areas. First, clarify and focus the role of the team (Katzenbach & Smith, 2005). Second, establish trust, appreciate diversity, manage meetings, monitor progress, increase visibility, and create mutual successes (Malhotra et al., 2007). Third, develop flexible and communicative knowledge workers (Dani et al., 2006). Fourth, foster a culture that incorporates diversity. Together, these initiatives are expected to exceed most leaders’ expectations.

Dr. Johnny D. Magwood
Northeast Utilities Service Company
V.P. Customer Experience & Chief Customer Officer; Northeast Utilities Service Company. J. D. Power Smart Grid Advisory Council; Chairman- Housing Authority Baltimore City; Next Generation Utilities Advisory Board; Utility Knowledge Customer Service Council; CS Advisory Council; Magistrate Judge Seletion Committee. Marketing Executive Council; Mechanical Engineer - The Johns Hopkins University; MBA - Loyola University of Maryland; DBA - University of Phoenix; Doctoral dissertation; Mergers and Acquisition: The Role of Corporate Executives' Relationships with Stakeholders


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