Training in Virtual Teams

In the face of the complex and unique virtual work environment, organizations are required to invest in the training and development of virtual team members. This is to ensure success of these virtual project teams in effectively performing their task activities and successfully delivering the project goals. The overall objective of a well-defined training program should be to develop a virtual team whose members are capable of using variety of technological tools to effectively communicate with each other with competencies to collaborate and build trust in order to achieve their shared purpose.

A successful virtual team is the one where the energies of team members are combined towards achieving a common goal and the energy loss due to team conflicts are minimal. The training program for virtual teams should focus on three aspects - technology, group processes and cross cultural management.

Technology Training

Virtual teams rely on information technology tools for their interactions. Various electronic media used for information sharing are web-conferencing, meeting managers, white boards, and electronic bulletin boards etc. Hence it is important that all members are well-versed with the usage of different electronic media. Technology training should also involve coaching members on how to choose the most effective media in different situations so that it perfectly matches the team tasks requirements. For example, choosing web-conferencing when visual cues are essential and creating a password-secured shared drive for making confidential information accessible to selected few. Many a times organizations make use of advance software packages such as WebX, Live Link and IP-Team for facilitating globally distributed virtual team management. These are complex and require adequate amount of training to be able to harness their full potential and effective return on investment. Effective use of different tools dramatically reduces the communication problems and also aid faster and gainful interactions among the virtual team members.

Group Processes Training

Throughout the life cycle of the virtual team development, virtual team members face different challenges at each stage. It is imperative to effectively train the virtual team members for each of these challenges in advance as well as during the team operations. The group process training involves various modules related to goal-setting, problem solving, building trust and collaboration, monitoring performance, and leading virtual teams. It is advisable to provide the training through web-based modules. The training schedule and targeted deadline for each module should be provided and the team members should be allowed to complete the module at their own convenience and pace. The team members should be encouraged to discuss their training notes with each other through a discussion forum. This would help to build social capital and workplace relationships which will be effective for future collaboration and trust.

Cross Cultural Training

Virtual environment brings together the subject-matter experts and specialists from different cultures across the world to work on a project. There could be individuals from USA, Israel, Japan and India working as part of a virtual team. This might lead to potential problems if members are not aware and sensitive to the cultural differences in work behaviors, communication and religious preferences. For example, an American would be highly result and target-oriented while Asian would emphasize on relationships or a teammate from Israel might not be available for calls on Friday afternoons or Saturday because of their tradition of Sabbath. Such cultural issues might lead to misunderstandings with adverse effect on the task progress. Therefore it is the responsibility of the HR department of the organization to provide a cross-cultural training to the virtual team members before the project kick-off. This would sensitize and create awareness among the members for each other culture, religion and traditions.

The impact of virtual teams can be increased manifold by carefully designing and implementing the training programs customized to the virtual team requirements. Such workshops and e-learning programs enhance the competencies and capabilities of the virtual team members resulting in stronger collaboration and trust, increased productivity and profitability of the global virtual workspace.


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