Virtual Teams - Myths and Realities

With an aim to leverage on the global talent, virtual teams are becoming the norm for team work in most of organizations. But there are certain myths that cloud the mindset of the managers/leaders of these virtual teams which does not allow them to utilize their full potential. For the success of virtual team, it is vital to burst these myths and present an actual picture to the managers. In this article we will look in greater details at what these myths are, what is the reality and what needs to be done to bridge the gap or bring about the change in the mindset of the managers.

  • Myth 1 - Virtual Teams are just like Traditional Teams

    Many organizations put managers who were earlier managing traditional or co-located teams in charge of virtual teams. Considering their past success no formal training is provided. These managers continue to act in the same manner with their new team without understanding the demands of the new role.

    Reality - The challenges posed by virtual teams are very different from that of the traditional teams. Considering the differences in physical space, culture and time zone, the dynamics of virtual teams are unique. Thus managing virtual teams is an altogether different ball game. For example, if you are sitting in the same office it is easier to monitor the activities of your team members, but think about how you would do it if he is sitting in another continent.

  • Myth 2 - The success of virtual teams is solely dependent on how skilled your members are

    Many managers go little over-board in their desire to hire best global talent when selecting members for a virtual team. For them virtual team members are like machines or robots who would only be task-focused. Hence the better their skill sets, they will show better performance - this is the underlying hiring philosophy of the virtual team managers.

    Reality - Lot of those who have managed virtual teams would have experienced the inability of a best skilled member to deliver expected results. This is direct evidence to the fact that for an effective performance, an individual requires more than functional skills. Many highly skilled people succumb to the pressure of social isolation while some average skilled people are better off. Thus it is important to balance the two set of requirements - functional skills and attitude to work in virtual environment.

  • Myth 3 - The Success of Virtual Team is driven by Technology

    Large number of managers gives very high weight age to the technology for the success of virtual teams. For them driving a virtual team is all about using technological tools like web-conferencing to communicate and collaborate. The more advanced the tool, the more confident they will be about managing their virtual teams

    Reality - In reality, technology is only to assist the functioning of the virtual teams. How a virtual team functions is largely dependent on the human side of the coin - the amount of trust, collaboration and knowledge sharing members enjoy has far greater impact on the success of virtual team.

  • Myth 4 - There is no need to pay Attention to the Career Progression of a virtual member

    This is a prevalent side effect of being a virtual team member, experienced by many. Generally managers find it difficult to use the same lens to appraise the performance of a virtual team member as that of the co-located one. Still, visibility to the leaders is considered as a plus when it comes to promotions, appraisal ratings etc.

    Reality - Focus on the career development of virtual team members is vital to the current and future success of virtual teams. It keeps the members motivated as well as sets right example for others to perform. By sidelining the career growth of those working in virtual setting, you send a wrong message to others that you do not value virtual teams. And, they would, in all possibility avoid any opportunity to work in virtual team.

  • Myth 5 - Laissez-Faire Leadership Style works best for Virtual Teams

    Many managers feel that virtual teams are independent and self-reliant. They function best when left on their own. Hence they adopt a laissez-faire or hands-off leadership style. Managers would assign the roles and responsibilities to each member and leave them to deliver on expectations.

    Reality - This is one situation where laissez-faire leadership style will cause more harm than benefits. Managing virtual team demands lot of communicating, expectation-setting and problem solving to ensure the project does not miss the deadlines.

  • Myth 6 - Creativity is not possible in Virtual Team Environment

    Managers find it difficult to get all the virtual team members to brainstorm at one place and time. This creates a mindset that virtual team members should focus only on the task at hand and cannot contribute much in the new idea generation sessions

    Reality - This is the biggest paradoxical notion of a virtual team manager that can discourage him to build on the strength of his virtual team. The first virtual teams ever formed were actually for new product development. The virtual environment brings together the diversity in opinions and thoughts, which is an important cornerstone of innovation. The fact that members are not present at one place let them put forth their ideas much freely.

  • Myth 7 - Networking is not important in Virtual Team Environment

    Networking especially social networking is not given due importance. Since the gestures and expressions cannot be read in a virtual environment, managers as well as team members keep their discussions largely task-focused and no informal talks are done. The usual over-the-coffee chat sessions cannot be replicated; it leaves very little room for building out-of-work relationships among virtual team members.

    Reality - But in reality, it is important to form strong ties among virtual team members to build trust, which is crucial to the virtual team success. In order to meet expectations and collaborate, it is necessary to understand the culture and personalities of other members. This can only be done through informal interactions.

Conclusion

Thus we distil how some of the widespread notions about the virtual teams actually do not hold any ground in reality. To ensure success of virtual teams two things are required. First managers should change the lens through which they look at the virtual teams and accept that they are different from traditional teams. Second, appropriate training has to be imparted to provide managers with necessary tools to achieve desired results.


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