Making Virtual Teams Work Term Paper 6 pages

Making Virtual Teams Work
Creating virtual work teams nationally or even globally versus those that
are centralized requires two fundamentally different organizational
strategies, with each requiring a fundamentally different skill sets on the
part of managers and their staffs. The employees that comprise virtual
work teams need to have higher than average levels of initiative,
resourcefulness, ability to keep themselves moving towards goals,
organized, and able to manage time effectively. Kerber and Buono (2004) in
their research summarized in the article Leadership Challenges in Global
Virtual Teams: Lessons from the Field provide an excellent analysis of what
it takes to create strong virtual work teams, and one of the most important
attributes is the level of experience and maturity of team members when
they are located across a broad geographic region. Combs and Peacoke
(2007) provide a series of pragmatic insights into the management of
virtual teams including the development of team etiquette and ground rules
for making teams spread across broad geographies work efficiently. When
the research accumulated and analyzed for this paper is organized into a
framework, the role of the manager for virtual teams emerges as more of a
facilitator and coach than autocrat. The role of process and
communications enabler, a distance learning coach if you will, is what best
practices in managing virtual teams is all about. Of all process areas
that causes many virtual teams to fail is alack of focus on knowledge
transfer and the accumulated learning through the entire organization.
Conversely, best practices in managing virtual team has more to do enabling
and fostering a high level of knowledge sharing, and group-level learning
as if these processes can get integrated into virtual teams they will
become highly effective at synthesizing information and quickly reacting to
it. This paper analyzes the characteristics of successful distance
managers and the strategies they use to manage virtual teams.
Characteristics of Successful Distance Managers
The unique set of skills required to make a virtual team effective begins
with a strong focus on creating credibility for the remote team, who are
rarely seen together physically in one location. Kerber and Buono (2004)
juxtapose the heightened need to create credibility for virtual teams
relative to the more steady and gradual approach to creating credibility
for managers of teams that are collocated. Creating and sustaining trust
and credibility form the foundation of the successful virtual work team of
training professionals in any organization. This credibility needs to be
fostered while at the same time fostering the growth of processes necessary
for learning and ongoing thought leadership emanating from the virtual
Once the manager of a virtual team has created that foundation of trust and
credibility throughout the organization by quickly producing results, the
team needs to begin contributing to more strategic and longer-range
projects, despite being virtual. These strategic projects require that
each of the team members fulfill the tactical requirements of their job yet
not get consumed with them full-time. This can be difficult when many
tactical and often urgent, activities in the regional offices where they
were located dominate their time. Managing remote team members to stay
focused on the strategic projects surrounding training took significant
skill and the ability to clearly show the outcomes of achievement of the
many tasks at hand. The manager of the virtual work team has to find
innovative approaches to keep a team focused on strategic priorities and
synchronize the team’s efforts to the attainment of performance goal or
objective. Attaining strategic goals as a virtual team creates even greater
levels of credibility and establishes a team as a respected contributor to
any organization.
Yet to get to this level of performance, the manager of the virtual work
team has to become more aggressive and focused than his counterpart
managers who had collocated teams. To manage performance, the virtual team
manager has to create structures and routines that could compensate for the
lack of continual in-person contact while pushing up the level of
accountability and expectations to the virtual team members. Second, the
virtual team manager has to make sure these leadership functions and values
were distributed to each team member, as Bell and Kozlowski (2002). There
needs to be a very clear definition of roles in virtual teams to alleviate
any confusion, conflict or wasted effort.
To accomplish these two critical leadership steps, the virtual team manager
has to first bring together in person the virtual team members to give
everyone a chance to first meet each other, and second, to provide an
opportunity for relationships to get formed. The best virtual teams invest
in these in-person activities regularly to strengthen the bonds between
team members and further clarify and strengthen each contributor’s unique
role as part of the virtual team. Third, getting together in person also
provides an opportunity for both the asynchronous and synchronous forms of
communication, all of them electronic, to be planned for, initiated and put
in place. Fourth, conference calling times need to be defined for a
maximum of 90 minutes every other week, in addition to one-on-one telephone
meetings between the leader and each team member, evaluation of progress
towards objectives, measures of client satisfaction, quarterly reports of
departmental business accomplishments, performance appraisals completed on
time and personal development plans.
Given the significant amount of responsibility each of the virtual team
members has for strategic projects and their many project and individual
contribution goals, the role of the virtual team manager quickly needs to
become one of leading by example when it comes attitude, work ethic and the
passion for achievement. In virtual team leaders need to be the “true
north” of attitude, achievement and direction towards objectives, including
being a model of how to be passionate about their work and its contribution
to the broader company organizations. A leader must be the emotional
foundation of strength for a virtual team; to be dispassionate is to fail
in the role of virtual team member. In fact the best performing virtual
teams demand a manager who exceeds the team members’ expectations for their
commitment, attitude and focus on results, according to Mindell (1993).
Ultimately the success or failure of any virtual team rests with the
manager and their ability to get experienced team members to consistently
deliver above-average performance and make greater than normal levels of
contributions. Managing a virtual team must center on exceptional results
and the delivery of performance that seasoned and exceptional team members
are capable of requires nothing less than a leader with total commitment
and passion for the ole and vision of the team they manage.
Keeping Virtual Team Members Engaged Alleviates Many Problems Early
Analysis by Kerber and Buono (2004) also point to the need to keep virtual
team members focused on their strategic priorities first, and not become
involved in the many tactical and often unrelated tasks associated with the
departments who happen to be in their regional office where they work.
Keeping business development professionals focused is especially difficult
from a distance due to their skill set being easily used in pre-sales,
sales, and post-sales activities. One could easily see a sales person
getting a chance to bring in a senior manager or senior business
development executive for a new product introduction, and this pattern
would just increase if the customer engagement went well. Staying focused
on their priorities takes maturity and initiative on the part of the
virtual team members.
Another critical area for virtual team members’ success is the ability to
quickly see how their results not only underscore their values as
individual contributors, yet also giving them recognition as part of the
global effort their teams are responsible for achieving. Often virtual
teams have highly structured set of deliverables, which require a high
level of cooperation and collaboration between both other virtual team
members and collocated teams in headquarters to accomplish the tasks and
objectives necessary to complete the strategic objectives. Virtual team
members need to be quite skilled in project management to be able to
coordinate and collaborate across both virtual teams and collocated teams
in the headquarters locations as well.
Technology Implications of Virtual Teams
There are literally thousands of electronic tools and applications
available for enabling virtual teams to track progress towards their shared
goals and objectives. What many researchers have found however that many
of the virtual teams don’t need so many tools and technologies as much as
they need a clear understanding of the processes that are needed for
ensuring a high level of communication, and therefore trust, being created
as a result.
Technologies as simple as e-mail to as complex as Intranet sites and
portals pervade virtual teams, yet their effectiveness in many companies is
limited to content management instead of synchronizing strategies that lead
to goals be attained. That’s because the underlying processes necessary
for teams to accomplish their goals are not defined prior to intensive
levels of technologies being applied to virtual teams. What needs to
happen instead is a re-definition, a business process management series of
strategies in effect put into place, to make sure the underlying dynamics
of the team will be made more efficient with the technologies to begin
with. Virtual teams that gain the highest levels of performance first get
their many processes in place first, and then move through the iterative
stages of defining their information, collaboration and shared process
ownership needs first, and then layer in specific technologies to automate
these processes. Only by taking a very process-centric approach to defining
technology needs will virtual teams be successful in their use of
collaboration, synchronization, and project management applications. The
processes need to form the foundation by which applications and
technologies get integrated into the workflows of virtual teams. Technology
for its own sake is never a solution, yet must be an enabler of processes
if the investments in technology are ever going to pay off.
Ultimately the virtual team member must perceive that their job has been
created to allow them to excel, removing roadblocks and other distractions
out of their way so they can excel. Once these conditions are created and
a strong leader injects a positive and “whatever it takes” attitude, a
virtual team will excel, as the team members will find it in their best
interests to fulfill their own potential in the position they have taken in
such a fast-moving organizational structure.

Bell, B. S., and Kozlowski, S.W.J. (2002). A typology of virtual teams.
Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 14-49.

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Combs and Peacoke (2007) – Leading Virtual teams. T&D Magazine. February,
2007. Issue 61,2. ABI/INFORM Global. Accessed from EBSCO Host on June 7,

Kerber, Kenneth W. & Buono, Anthony F. (2004) Leadership Challenges in
Global Virtual Teams: Lessons From the Field. SAM Advanced Management
Journal Vol. 69 Issue 4, p4, 7p

Mindell, A. (1993). The leader as martial artist: An introduction to deep
democracy. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers.

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