Leadership Essentials for Effectively Managing Virtual Teams

The global virtual teams are characterized by team members located in different geographies and time zones with information and communication technology tools as the only interface for them to interact. The virtual teams offer unique challenges. In order to overcome these challenges and unleash the creativity and potential of all the team members, the leader of the virtual team have to adopt a blend of the three leadership styles - transactional, transformational and situational.

Research studies indicate that the leadership style has greater effects on the productivity of virtual project teams as compared to that on the traditional collocated teams. This finding makes it essential for all the virtual team leaders or managers to revisit their leadership approach for an effective virtual team.

A global virtual team leader should have high levels of techno-socio-emotional capabilities and should be able to strike a perfect balance between the following three leadership styles and create a distinctive approach to manage multi-cultural, multi-lingo, multi-geographies and multi-time zone member team.

  1. Transactional Approach - According to the Transactional Approach, the main focus of the leader is on the execution of the tasks and achievement of the team objectives as per the defined timelines. To meet this focus the leader should ensure:

    • Regular communication with the team members both inside and outside the team environment

    • Clear and detailed picture of the team objectives which is well understood and agreed upon by all the team members

    • Use of various available medias as per the demand of the situation

    • Role and responsibilities of each member are well-defined

    • Accountability for each task is assigned

    • Regular and prompt responses for any problems, suggestions and queries

    • Continuous feedback and appreciation is provided as and when required

    • Follow-up on project milestones on regular basis to monitor the performance and adherence to timelines and procedures

    • Project progress report is shared by all members regularly

  2. Transformational Approach - According to the Transformational Approach, the leader should use different mechanisms to motivate and inspire the members. This requires providing caring, nurturing and intellectual support. This is highly required for knowledge sharing as well as creating a committed and engaged team. The leader is expected to:

    • Foster Team Identity in the formative stages of virtual teams. This can be facilitated by a kick-off meeting by using ICT tool like videoconferencing; an orientation mail with welcome note, ground rules for procedures & processes, introducing members etc. This helps to establish shared virtual team culture and values within the bigger organizational culture. It acts as an integrating force for the team.

    • Build trust - Trust is a major ingredient of successful virtual team. Leader should talk about trust explicitly in the early stages of team formation so when problems arise members are prepared to deal with them. This involves knowing how to express their frustrations, admit if they are lagging behind, seek help in case of any issues as well as keeping up commitments and informing beforehand if foresee any delay.

    • Help members build relationships and strong social ties - Since members hardly get to interact in same physical space, leader should provide adequate opportunities, time and tools for members to connect with each other at a personal level either within team meeting or separately. This would aid building relationships which goes a long way in keeping members engaged and committed to the team purpose.

    • Encourage Collaboration & Cohesion: Leader should provide a shared platform such as wiki or blog to the members to discuss their learning, opinions, suggestions and anxieties freely. This will help them to reflect and reveal on the aspects of team beyond the tasks on hand.

  3. Situational Approach - According to this approach, the virtual team leader has to adopt an approach as befitting the situation at hand. This calls for high level of flexibility, adaptability and ability to analyze the situation at hand. For example if the project is missing its deadlines then the leader has to adapt command and control style to ensure compliance. Leader should also be sensitive to the different cultures. This should reflect in this approach towards managing the members’ motivation to work and communication styles. For example, an American worker finds pay/status as motivating while a Japanese worker attach more value to harmonious and non-ambiguous work situations.

Thus we see there is no one-size-fit-all leadership style when it comes to managing virtual teams. The virtual team leader has to adopt an approach which is a fine blend of all the above discussed styles. This discussion acts as guiding principles for effectively managing virtual teams.


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