A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams

Front Cover
American Management Association, 2011 - Business & Economics - 264 pages
In the past, managing workplace teams came with potential problems, but most could be easily resolved. Fast-forward to today's technologically linked world of virtual teams and it's a completely different picture.

In today's world, teams aren't just the folks who report to you, along with the IT guy and the marketing whiz. Teams are spread across countries, time zones, languages, cultures, and more. And managing these disparate, far-flung teams is exponentially more complex and fraught with the potential to derail at any moment.

A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams is a road-map for bridging the logistical, cultural, and communication gaps that can prevent virtual teams from reaching their full potential--and a life-saver for anyone charged with delivering results from a dispersed team. Filled with self-study exercises, activities, and valuable advice based on the author's 20 years of consulting experience and hard-won wisdom from virtual team managers and members, the book explores the four most critical elements to team success:

- Trust and Accountability: Uncover 10 crucial tips for creating trust within and across virtual teams.

- Communication: Learn to navigate the unique challenges of the virtual world, especially in cross-cultural collaborations.

- Conflict Management: Put the examples, case scenarios, and resolution strategies to work building a unified, focused team.

- Deliverables: Find out how your virtual team can get work out the door faster and better.

Technology has made virtual teams an everyday reality, but it hasn't reduced the potential for conflict and confusion--it has amplified the problem. A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams brings much-needed clarity to the process of leading dispersed teams, and deep insights into how to tap into the team's collective energy to bring fast, effective results.

Yael Zofi is the founder and CEO of AIM Strategies(R), Applied Innovative Management(R), a human capital consulting firm. With over 20 years of global consulting experience, she has worked with clients such as AT&T, Chase, CIGNA, General Electric, MetLife, Pfizer, Philips, Viacom, and Nokia. Her organizational development work focuses on helping leaders and their teams become more successful through organizational alignment. She has created many team-based assessment tools, facilitated global team strategy retreats, designed international talent management programs, and facilitated merger integrations with three global organizations.

 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The Three Stages of Virtual Team Development
15
Setting Up Your Virtual Team
29
Context Communication Definitions and Challenges
57
Developing Accountability in a Virtual World
93
Defusing Conflict and Overcoming Roadblocks
125
Getting Deliverables Out the Door
153
CrossCultural Communications and Virtual Teams
191
Virtual Teams and the Future
229
The Eight Characteristics of HighPerforming Virtual Teams
251
Index
257
Copyright

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About the author (2011)

I N T R O D U C T I O N

An Overview of

Virtual Teams

Walk into any office today and you know that things are not as

they were a decade ago. If you engage employees in conversation,

many of them will say that they are working on some

projects with colleagues who do not work in the same building, the

same city, or even the same country. Ask them if they have met these

teammates and some employees may claim to have viewed pictures

posted on the Internet, while others may describe introductions made

during webcam meetings or a visit to a corporate off-site event.

Clearly our business landscape has changed.

The virtual team, VT for short, is a work arrangement in which a

group of people share responsibility for goals that must be accomplished

in the total, or near total, absence of face-to-face contact. With

the rise of technology and globalization, virtual teams are now reshaping

the way we think and do business.

Organizations have always operated in multiple locations, but now,

colleagues are increasingly asked to work together across geographic

boundaries, with shared responsibility for outcomes. Global operations

have emerged throughout the world of commerce, running 24/7 on different

continents and across times zones. Many large conglomerates place

teams in different countries with the expectation that schedules will fit the

project--and follow the sun--as one team hands off work product to an-

other. This arrangement is possible because technology brings efficiencies

in creating work product and solving complex business issues quickly.

Although many virtual work arrangements exist today for employees

at all levels, the number and diversity of these types of arrangements

(whether home offices or office locations) just keep increasing.

Enabled by technology, the virtual team is a natural solution for getting

deliverables out the door in our fast-paced, global environment. Increasingly,

leaders are charged with quickly putting together teams of

individuals with appropriate skills and abilities to fit within a project''s

time line, regardless of where the talent is physically located. In such

situations, e-mail has usurped voice mail while conference calls have

replaced conference rooms.

The Need for Virtual Teams

Virtual team arrangements have become increasingly popular as companies

rethink their human capital resources and real estate expenditures.

Of course, teamwork has long been a common work value, with

many companies using teams organized around successive tasks; so,

the virtual team is only the latest accommodation to the realities that

govern work process. The virtual team is unique, however, because the

most appropriate expertise is pulled together from many locations and

even organizations--and yet team members may never meet in person.

With virtual work arrangements, recruiting talent and expertise is possible,

regardless of where people are based.

More than any other factor, information technology has enabled the

proliferation of virtual teams. With mobile devices, text messaging,

e-learning modules, and cloud computing, team members are able to interact

in more accessible ways, anywhere, anytime. Thanks to highspeed

networking technology and wireless connectivity, instantaneous

communication across the world is possible, at low cost, at a touch of a

button, screen, or keyboard. Today, we take for granted this phenomenon;

not too long ago, it was the province of futurists. This faster-paced

environment, combined with a slowed economy, brutal cost cutting, and

relentless outsourcing, has forced companies to rethink every aspect of

their operations.

As businesses expand globally to new markets, they launch operations

where labor is cheap and the cost of living is lower; opportunities are provided

for local employees to collaborate on a wider scale and develop expertise.

Reverberations are felt beyond their shores as relentless

pressure builds for quickly producing more goods that are less costly,

forcing creative solutions for quicker breakthroughs. Virtual teams,

then, are beneficiaries of technology-based, cost-conscious, and globally

sourced business operations (see Figure I-1).

Figure I-1. Benefits of virtual teams.

Technology Enablers

* Online communication capabilities and technologies are continually improving virtual team

operations. Among the key enabling technologies are mobile devices, text messaging, instant

messaging, cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), file and application sharing,

electronic bulletin/message boards, group decision support systems, real-time

calendar/scheduling systems, and e-mail.

* Online learning, distance learning, and e-learning software enable learning anywhere, anytime.

* Virtual business networking (LinkedIn) and social networking sites (Facebook) and video/web

conferencing further increase online communication.

* Technology memory recording tools track every step of complex processes; keeping records

(documentation) and learning from past processes enables speed (doing things faster) and

memory (preserving shared experience).

* Document management systems enable online libraries for information sharing, thus saving

space and time.

Cost Considerations

* Cutting down on personnel, office space (real estate), infrastructure, furniture, and supplies

that are no longer needed saves money.

* In high-rent cities, businesses can rent shared office space on an as-needed basis with all

amenities, including reception, support staff, technology, and telecom services.

* Virtual teams eliminate the need for having dedicated conference meeting space and on-site

training facilities, and related travel and accommodations costs.

* Environmental benefits include reduced commuter gas consumption and a smaller carbon

footprint. Think green!

People Expertise

* Global workforce means talent is anywhere and everywhere--and the workforce is mobile.

* Expertise is available and can be outsourced for numerous functions (web design, blog development,

search engine optimization [SEO], advertising, technical media/financial writing, technical

market research, administrative, public relations, marketing, and sales support).

The Virtual Landscape

Another force fueling the emergence of virtual teams is the need to move

resources quickly. Competitive factors are a compelling motivator to find

alternative work arrangements so that work processes and procedures

can mirror the accelerated rate at which the world now operates.

Organizations are aware that the marketplace is increasingly multicultural

and diverse. They know their business colleagues and customers

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