February 14, 2018
When it comes to working on a virtual team, particularly a globally dispersed team, there are two great truths:
All members of virtual teams must understand the challenges presented by complexity and reliance. As explained in AMA’s The Successful Virtual Team Member course, individual contributors must develop the communication and relationship-building skills needed to be effective and reliable team members.
When we refer to the complexity of virtual teams, we are acknowledging the differences among team members related to time zones, geographical distance, access to communications and collaboration technology, and national cultures.
How complex is your team? If you answer yes to a majority of these questions, you are a member of a team with high complexity:
A high level of complexity challenges leaders to find different ways to build trust, communicate, and achieve results. The old “command and control” leadership approach does not work in these situations.
The second great truth is that virtual team members must develop the ability to create trusting relationships with one another, usually without the benefit of meeting face-to-face. It takes more time and effort to develop high levels of trust from a distance. And trust is critical when team members must rely on one another to complete their portions of a work product so that the overall team accomplishes its intended goals.
Reliance describes the level of interdependence among team members. Some teams have members who are located in the same or different countries, but each team member works relatively independently. For example, a group of pharmaceutical sales representatives may work out of their homes but report to the same regional manager. While they may occasionally have virtual team meetings and share information, their sales results are not dependent on the sales of other representatives.
How much reliance is reflected in your team? If you answer yes to a majority of these questions, you are part of a team with high reliance:
Virtual teams require greater flexibility from leaders and members due to the complexity and reliance differences. The key is to identify which factors are most influential and then put in place explicit work processes that clarify team goals, team member accountabilities, and ways to engage team members so that they are focused on accomplishing their tasks despite the distractions of virtual work. As the team’s work progresses, these processes will likely need to be revisited and adapted periodically, but it’s always best to begin with clarity.
Adapted, with permission, from Literally Virtually: Making Virtual Teams Work, by Lee Johnsen. Copyright 2018, Lee Johnsen. Published by Child of the Prairie.
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