Different Types of Virtual Teams

Many organizations turn to virtual teams to reduce operational costs, faster problem solving and innovate. Depending on the temporal distribution, lifespan, objective and role of members, virtual teams can be classified into the following 8 categories. This article looks at each type of virtual team in greater details. Examples are provided wherever possible to aid a faster understanding.

  1. Networked Teams are generally geographically dispersed and may have members from outside the organization. Many a times these are composed of cross-functional members who are brought together to share their expertise and knowledge on a specific issue or topic. Membership is fluid that is to say, new members are added as and when necessary and existing members are removed whenever their role is completed. The lifespan of a networked virtual team depends on how much time it takes to resolve the issue. The networked teams dissolve with the completion of assigned task. Networked teams are widely used in consulting firms and technology companies. However large a consulting firm may be it cannot have adequate resources to meet all its clients need. Therefore most of the consulting firms depend on other external networks to provide quality services to their clients. For example, Richard Maclean & Associates, an environmental, health and safety (EHS) management consulting firm located in Arizona serving both domestic and international clients relies on other academic and government research organizations like Center for Environmental Innovation, Air and Waste Management Association, Meridian Institute, to name a few to stay competitive at a low cost.

  2. Parallel Teams are generally formed by members of the same organization. While delivering on their primary assigned role in the organization, they take added parallel responsibility, hence the term parallel team. Generally this team is formed to review a process or a problem at hand and make recommendations. Unlike networked teams, these have constant membership which remains intact till the desired objective is achieved. These are generally formed for short span of time. These are very effective in multinational organizations where a global perspective is needed. For example, many consumer goods companies team up their sales, marketing, manufacturing and R&D professionals working at different locations into parallel virtual teams to make recommendations for the local adaptation of their product specifications.

  3. Project or Product Development Teams are the classic virtual teams which were developed as early as 1990s. These were actually the pioneer in the development of virtual teams. The project or product development virtual teams are composed of subject matter experts brought together from different parts of the globe to perform a clearly outlined task involving development of a new product, information system or organizational process, with specific and measurable deliverables. For example Whirlpool brought together a team of experts from United States, Brazil and Italy for a period of 2 years to develop a chlorofluorocarbon-free refrigerator. Like network teams their membership is also fluid but unlike parallel teams, these can take decisions and not just recommendations. These are typically found in R&D division of the product-based companies.

  4. Work, Production or Functional Teams are formed when members of one role come together to perform single type of ongoing day-to-day work. Here members have clearly defined role and work independently. All of the members’ work combine together to give the end solution. For example, in order to reduce cost many organizations are outsourcing their backend HR operations or even for that matter the recruitment agencies form functional virtual teams for their clients.

  5. Service Teams - Have you ever wondered how organizations like Vodafone, Make My Trip etc are able to provide customer support 24*7? This has been made possible by the service virtual teams. Service virtual teams have members across difference time zones therefore when one member in Asia goes to sleep, the other member in America wakes up to answer your queries. This is the basic model of service teams which are formed of members spread across widely distinct geographic locations and though each member works independently but they together perform work in continuation. It is like relay race where one takes baton from the other and run the race. These are effective as technical and customer support teams.

  6. Action Teams are actually ad-hoc teams formed for a very short duration of time. Members of action team are brought together to provide immediate response to a problem and they disperse as soon s the problem is resolved. NASA forms a virtual action team consisting of leaders sitting in NASA headquarters in Houston, astronauts in space shuttle, engineers & scientists in different locations across the globe for a successful space mission.

  7. Management Teams are formed by managers of an organization who works from different cities or countries. These members largely get together to discuss corporate level strategies and activities. These are applicable to almost organizations which has office in more than one location.

  8. Offshore ISD Teams - Many companies subcontract or outsource portions of their software development work to a low-cost global location like India, Philippines etc. The team based out of this low-cost location is called offshore team which coordinates and collaborates with onshore team i.e. the main team of the company to deliver results. This model is applicable to software development and outsourcing organizations.


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