Considering the growing trend of globalization, organizations are increasingly calling upon the assistance of virtual teams to lead company projects. A virtual team consist of a group of people who work together across organizational boundaries and time using technology to communicate. Group members have a shared mission with interdependent performance goals. Virtual teams can include members who work from home, or an office in different locations across the globe. Organizations use virtual teams for numerous reasons to include flexibility for employees, competitive advantage, increased productivity, longer work days due to various global locations, inter-organizational cooperation, increased horizontal organization structures; also known as geographically dispersed teams, and organizations can hire and retain the best employees from various locations using this type of team (Free management library, 2012). Some common types of virtual teams include networked teams, parallel teams, project/product development teams, service teams, management teams or action teams. Virtual teams have become pertinent to the survival of firms who expand their business into global markets.
Skills & Competencies of an effective virtual team leader
As the trend of globalization increases the need for educated virtual team leaders have increased as well. Team leaders need to embody certain skills and competencies that will enable them to effectively lead a team. According to Norman (2015), eight effective skills of virtual team leadership include the following: being consistent in decision making and behavior by setting clear and easily understood processes and practices, such practices should be “culturally and regionally sensitive when working across cultural boundaries”, be supportive of all group members giving support in various ways dependent on the local needs of each member, be able to lead from behind when the situation calls for it, develop and express empathy for member, different locations can foster challenges such as making deadlines, language barriers and other cultural challenges, empower group members, develop awareness, be a model for best practices, and lastly be curios. Unlike the above listed skills, competencies are the behaviors that are required to be successful at a job. In this case the competencies needed to be an effective leader include communicating effectively, developing others, valuing diversity and differences, building and maintain relationships, and managing work groups (SHRM, 2008).
Stages of team development
Like traditional face to face teams, virtual teams go through various stages of development. A group goes through the following stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing; in some studies groups go through a fifth stage called adjourning (Saylor, n.d). The forming stage happens when members first interact with one another. At this time several questions are asked to combat uncertainty, members get to know one another, roles are distinguished, and tasks delegated. During the storming phase creative ideas, opinions and criticism are displayed, often causing conflict. As groups enter the norming stage leaders have effectively managed conflict and team members feel more comfortable with their task and each other. While in the performing stage the group “has matured, becoming more competent, autonomous, and insightful (Saylor, n.d). The hypothetical fifth stage refers to the ending of a groups existence and comes with its own sets of challenges.
Challenges & Opportunities in Virtual Teams
After reviewing the team member matrix, there are many challenges and opportunities that are apparent. The group members are from different states and countries and lack of cultural awareness is a potential challenge. Culture is a strong part of people lives, it influences the way they view the world. With that said it is important for group members to be sensitive to the differences amongst one another. Social loafing is the tendency for people to display less effort on a task when in a group setting. When teams are highly virtual they are the least visible which increases the chance of social loafing. Challenges will arise due to the time difference and distance. Developing a schedule that will work for all members involved will be a task in of itself. The team member matrix revealed the different communication preferences of each member, developing a compromising solution will be another challenge for a new group. Although conflict is inevitable there are some opportunities that exist within virtual teams. If done right a team leader can harness high levels of creativity and innovative ideas from group members. A team leader can learn valuable teachable experience through the trial and error of formulating a new work team. Virtual teams also foster an environment where networking across countries, and state lines can flourish.
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