Managing Groups and Teams/How Do You Manage Global Virtual Teams?
The rise of the Internet, the creation of a global fiber-optic network, and the rapid development of long distance communication technologies has made it very easy for people all over the world to work together. It created a global platform that has allowed more people to plug and play, collaborate and compete, share knowledge and share work, than anything we have ever seen in the history of the world (Friedman, 2005). The new communication technology gives teams a great advantage by providing many options that didn’t exist before, such as allowing employees to work from their homes locally or by working together in teams across the continents.
The nature of work has begun to shift from a production-based to service related business spawning a new generation of knowledge worker no longer bound to a physical work location. Taken together, these factors suggest that firms are faced with increasing challenges to coordinate tasks across time zones, physical boundaries, cultures, and organizational contexts. The increasing globalization of trade and corporate activity increases the pressure to innovate and provide quality services to worldwide markets. Over time, this has led organizations to choose the most qualified people, a “dream-team,” regardless of their physical location (Kerber, 2004:4). These remotely connected dream teams are known as global virtual teams (GVTs).
Global virtual teams are different from intra-national virtual teams in that they are “not only separated by time and space, but differ in national, cultural, and linguistic attributes (Zakaria, 2004:17).” According to Wheatley and Wilemon (1999), global team members “differ in their functionality, which adds complexity to group dynamics.” Global virtual teams can be formed quickly and are agile by their nature. They can help organizations decrease their response time to changes in today’s hyper-competitive markets by taking advantage of round the clock work by team members dispersed around the world.
A global virtual team possesses some similarities to traditional teams who are co-located. The same fundamental ideas, as stated in Chapter 6.1 of this Wikibook, that are necessary for the success of a traditional team still apply to global virtual team. The approach however, requires modification to focus extra effort to exploit the benefits that global virtual teams bring while minimizing the disadvantages that exist from communication difficulties and a lack of physical contact. This paper investigates the benefits, challenges, and best practices of managing global virtual teams while keeping in mind the fact that global virtual teams are still teams requiring the same ideals to ensure success.
Building Virtual Teams
Because of the unique challenges confronting virtual teams, it is especially important at their formation that they build upon a strong foundation. Some of the ideas in this chapter are expanded and explored in the following chapter. Among others, building blocks for successful virtual teams include the following:
- Creating a mission, goals, and ground rules
- Identifying stakeholders and their expectations
- Complimentary roles and responsibilities
- Building relationships, trust, and rewarding experiences
Creating a mission, goals, and ground rules
An often overlooked exercise in any team situation is the discussion of processes and rules which should govern team meetings and projects. Virtual teams are no exception. In reality, establishing and adhering to goals and ground rules is more complicated in virtual teams than in those where members have the frequent opportunity to meet face-to-face. The inability to have face time with one another makes it difficult for team members to "touch base" and maintain a unified purpose. The need to do this, however, is clear. If the individuals of a team do not have a clear and shared understanding of where they are going, they will never get there. Virtual teams should hold an orientation meeting (face-to-face if possible) where team members acknowledge not only the purpose of the team, but the significance of their team's purpose for the organization in which it operates. Understanding their purpose, members of the team should then set goals and assign tasks toward the fulfilling of that purpose. Each team member should come away from the orientation meeting with a clear understanding of the team's purpose as well as their individual role.
Identifying stakeholders and their expectations
The purpose of a virtual team should be very closely tied to the expectations of stakeholders. Therefore, stakeholders or stakeholder representatives should be actively involved in the formation of the virtual team. Clarifying the needs and expectations of stakeholders in the beginning will help the team to avoid unnecessary work, confusion, and conflict. A documentation of stakeholder's expectations should be made for reference throughout the project. Future communication between stakeholders and team representatives will further ensure that the team's purpose is on track and being fulfilled.
Complimentary roles and responsibilities
It is important that every member of a virtual team has a full understanding of the capabilities and roles of individual team members. Each must know his or her role, the role of others, and to who they may look for resources and support. Without this knowledge, the team will not achieve its performance potential. If the responsibilities of team members are clearly defined and documented, each team member will be accountable to each other and to the group for the fulfilling of their responsibilities. The ground rules established in the formation of the group should address responsibilities and tasks and likewise identify remedies and protocol when individual and group responsibilities are not fulfilled. In order for team members to "own" their role and responsibilities, they should document their perceptions of their role within the team. Only when team members have fully bought into the team's purpose and their role within it can they be held fully accountable.
Naturally, it is important that the roles and responsibilities of team members compliment one another and represent a unique and useful asset to the team. Selecting individuals to take part in a virtual team requires thoughtful consideration. Depending on the size of the team and scope of its purpose, teams may include a core group which is fully accountable for the results, as well as extended or ancillary members who bring unique knowledge to the team. Flexibility and adaptability are necessary in new virtual teams as their purpose and needs evolve.
Building relationships, trust, and rewarding experiences
The ideal way of building relationships with team members is to spend time together face-to-face. As mentioned earlier, this can be difficult in virtual teams whose members may reside continents away. LaFasto and Larson suggest that it is even more important for virtual teams to connect in person on a regular basis: "For a group of regional managers spread across the country or around the world, ensuring adequate face time might mean meeting together every quarter to calibrate major activities, explore common challenges, and confirm relationships" (181).
When relationships between team members are built and confirmed on an ongoing basis, a culture of trust will exist even when members are working virtually with one another. The way a group behaves and performs affects individual members. When trust is present and group behavior is positive, so too will be team member's evaluation of the experience. An individual's positive evaluation of the team leads to greater trust and ongoing participation. The collaborative participation of team's members translates into group behavior in a cyclical pattern as shown below.
There are many benefits of using global virtual teams due to the increased number of options and resources they provide. Jarvenpaa and Leidner explain that "Virtual teams promise the flexibility, responsiveness, lower costs, and improved resource utilization necessary to meet ever-changing task requirements in highly turbulent and dynamic global business environments (1999:791)." Moreover, the use of global virtual teams provides an opportunity to coordinate complex business tasks across a potentially far-flung confederation of organizations. This allows companies to better communicate and coordinate even though vast distances separate the different team members, making it easier to expand internationally and removing other location and distance-based restrictions.
- The required expertise for a given task or project can be dispersed by multiple locations throughout the world. However, a global virtual team may facilitate the pooling of this talent to provide focused attention to a particular problem without having to physically relocate individuals. “Virtual teams allow organizations to bring together critical contributors who might not otherwise be able to work together due to time, travel, and cost restrictions (Kerber, 2004: 4).” This allows workers to be located anywhere and allows companies the opportunity to work virtually with team members in geographic areas that were previously considered too distant to be considered a viable work location
- Companies can be more responsive to their customers through diversity. “Virtual teams may allow organizations to unify the varying perspectives of different cultures and business customs to avoid counterproductive ethno-centric biases (Kayworth, 2000:184).” Global virtual teams composed of members with different cultural visions may be less likely to experience “groupthink” and are more likely to develop innovative solutions to problems. In addition, the ability to respond to the specific and varied needs of a global audience can be addressed quickly and effectively with a global virtual team. Members of a global virtual team can immediately respond to specific geographic and cultural requirements previously ignored or missed by collocated teams.
- Lower costs
- Global virtual teams can help corporations lower their labor and overhead costs. There are pools of inexpensive, highly skilled labor forces in various locations around the world who can’t or do not want to be relocated. Access by communication to these labor forces leads many organizations to offshore certain functions traditionally performed in-house or by contractors. This is an appealing option to many organizations looking to reduce overall project and maintenance costs. By outsourcing the development of an application to India, for example, an organization can reduce the cost of a project. This is because India, in addition to many other countries, has a large population of highly educated people who can be accessed with today’s advanced communications technology. This allows the company to pay someone in India much less to do the same work compared to someone working locally in the U.S. Global virtual teams also reduce travel, accommodations, and other miscellaneous expenses for team members.
- Improved resource utilization
- Global virtual teams can improve resource utilization by leveraging time to their advantage. Performing work asynchronously helps global organizations effectively bridge different time zones so that teams can be more productive during a work period. “For example, London team members of a global virtual team of software developers at Tandem Services Corporation initially coded the project and transmitted their code each evening to U.S. team members for testing. U.S. members forwarded the code they tested to Tokyo for debugging. London team members started their next day with the code debugged by their Japanese colleagues, and another cycle was initiated. This is only one example of how GVTs can increase team-member productivity and reduce development time (Saunders, 2004:19).”
The pitfalls that virtual teams face in their early stages stem simply from the antitheses of the building blocks described above. As with water, teams tend to follow the "path of least resistance." This is because the pitfalls of virtual team building are due to omissions and inactivity. A common pitfall is setting out without a clear goal or purpose. If team members understand little more than the routine tasks they are to perform day-to-day, a lack of common understanding will lead to misdirected work and wasted time and resources. A related pitfall is misaligning the purpose of the team with the needs and expectations of stakeholders and the organization as a whole. Virtual teams further damage themselves when they neglect to take opportunities for building strong communication and trust in their relationships.
- Hold an orientation meeting where team members participate in team building activities and document the team's purpose. Each team member should document his or her understanding of the team's purpose and their perceived role. These descriptions should be circulated within the group.
- Prepare a questionnaire for each stakeholder to complete and return to the group. The questions should illicit a response which helps the team in the formation of goals and confirmation of the team's purpose.
- Whenever possible, team members should meet face-to-face to confirm relationships and participate in activities which build trust and encourage communication.
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- Cultural differences add value and diversity to teams, but can cause problems as well. The two main cultural issues that appear in global virtual teams are: false perception of similarity and differing perceptions of teamwork.
- Diversity: It has been proven through many studies of successful teams that diversity can reduce the occurrence of "groupthink" and allow a team to make better and more creative decisions. Team members from different cultures automatically bring diversity to the group. This diversity should not be ignored or minimized; rather it should be embraced and utilized. Effective ideas from one country or market can be adapted successfully for others.
- False perception of similarity: There is often a false assumption among immigrants from English-speaking countries that they will have an easier time assimilating than those coming from non-English speaking countries. In actuality, foreign nationals from English-speaking countries experience higher rates of culture shock than those from non-English-speaking countries. This is due to a perception that the cultures will be similar because there is a shared language. This perception also plagues global virtual teams. “Welch, and Marschan-Piekkari (2001:197) and Usunier (1993) show that because of perceived familiarity and similarity across English-speaking countries, individuals can be lured into a false sense of confidence and fail to perceive that they are not culturally close. This can have a negative impact on business communication processes and personal relationships (Henderson, 2005:75).”
- Differing perceptions of teamwork: The concept of teamwork varies between cultures. “Members from different cultures will, in all probability, describe a team’s objectives, membership criteria, and activities in very different terms (Zakaria, 2004:20).” The value of individual work as opposed to teamwork differs greatly between countries. Individuals born and raised in Great Britain, Canada (excluding Quebec), and the United States tend to be more individualistic. Chinese and Indian individuals, on the other hand, are more focused on collective efforts. As Jarvenpaa & Leidner (1999:793) explain, "Individuals from individualistic cultures tend to be less concerned with self-categorizing, are less influenced by group membership, have greater skills in entering and leaving new groups, and engage in more open and precise communication than individuals from collectivist cultures." Additionally, “individuals from individualistic cultures might be more ready to trust others than individuals from collectivist cultures in computer-mediated communication environments (Jarvenpaa, 1999:794).” These differences make it difficult to determine what the cause of a problem may be with team members because it’s difficult to distinguish between cultural and personal factors. This makes diagnosing and solving problems more difficult than in traditional teams.
- A good way to approach cultural differences is to learn as much as possible about the culture. This includes background research or meeting with consultants to learn how best to behave before the initial meeting. Any attention spent in this area will go a long way toward team success. Being prepared and making a good first impression will send positive signals to members of the other culture and will signify intentions of commitment. Knowing that Aussie’s can be very direct in their communication will assist an American in not taking it personally when being told to “mind your own business (Sabath, 1999:24).” It is also helpful to know that is it not uncommon for Japanese to “wait 10 to 15 seconds before responding” to a question or comment (Sabath, 1999: 93). This type of cultural information will reduce tension among team members.
- Trust in global virtual teams is both important and difficult to build because team members are limited in their physical interaction. In addition to the lack of social context, language barriers and a reliance on stereotypes complicate the building of trust in global virtual team.
- In other cultures, relationships and trust are paramount in business. If virtual team members from the United States manage to gain the trust of foreign associates, that trust could very well translate into a lifetime of profitable business interactions.
- Language: A major challenge for teams composed of speakers of different languages is that the building of trust and relationships is largely language dependent. Based on published research and illustrative empirical data, findings indicate that language diversity has a significant impact on socialization processes and team building, influencing both communication acts and mutual perceptions. Results of investigations into multilingual teams using English to communicate have shown that many obstacles are encountered by native as well as nonnative speakers (Henderson, 2005:79). “Research has shown that language-related issues can impact negatively on interpersonal relations, trust, and the working atmosphere (Henderson, 2005:67).”
- Reliance on stereotypes: One of the difficulties international teams experience is the tendency to resort to national stereotypes that can lead to misinterpretations of the behavior of team members, leading to tensions and mistrust. “These are expressed in the form of judgments of others who may be labeled as being, for example, ‘reserved,’ ‘silent,’ or ‘direct,’ based on the stereotypical linguistic attributes of the language community to which they belong (Henderson, 2005:74).” It is important to address these hurdles to building trust in global virtual teams because “the inability to develop these relationships within a social context may negatively impact such outcomes as creativity, morale, decision-making quality, and process loss (Kayworth, 2000:189).”
- One way to promote trust is to have smaller groupings and make their tenure together a longer period of time. This permits the team members to know each other better in comparison to a system in which the teams are constantly shifting. If the team members know that they’ll be around each other for a long time into the future, they will have an incentive to put more effort into building lasting relationships. The prospect of spending more time together in the future discourages negative behavior, such as not returning an email, because sometime in the future this will have negative consequences. In a rapidly shifting team, however, building relationships is not as important because the team won’t be together for much longer. If the team members know they’ll be working together for a long time they’ll have an incentive to work together and trust each other much more than they otherwise would. Having the same team together for a long time opens the possibility that the team will become outdated and obsolete. Therefore the team must be flexible, innovative, explore new technologies, and be capable of learning so that the team continues to be effective during their long tenure together.
- Stereotype Breakdown: Another way to build trust in global virtual teams is to breakdown these stereotypes and allow people to realize that we are all humans with similar problems, despite the vast cultural differences. Majchrzak (2004, 7) tells of a successful example of this form of trust building: The leader of one team, a retired military officer, started his conference calls by asking each person to spend 30 seconds describing “where the member is at.” During a conference call in 2002, when snipers were terrorizing the Washington, DC, area, a team member living there said she didn’t feel so alone after she heard her fears echoed by another member in the Philippines, where insurgents were shooting people on their way to and from work. By using this simple technique, team leaders can assist their team members in realizing they share many similar experiences as do their co-workers on the other side of the world. This will create closeness and facilitate the building of trust.
- Structure: Management must also pay strong attention to facilitate the proper balance between the level of structure and trust developed among team members. A strong structure, which translates into clear and shared goals, norms, task and process descriptions, hierarchy, roles, personal interaction and relationship, reduces the ambiguity that typically exists in global virtual teams (Jarvenpaa, 2004:251). Working on a global virtual team makes it more difficult to specifically identify exactly what you should be working on because of its solitary nature. This increases the need for specifying the process because of the lack of social interaction which would normally allow someone to double check their work and direction with other team members.
- Social Interaction: A kick-off meeting is a good way to promote the social interaction and relationship building necessary in teams. The team’s tasks involve highly complex messages as well as high levels of reciprocity and interdependency, which require a rich communication media and long team duration (Maznevsky, 2000:488). It is therefore recommended that whenever this context of reciprocity and interdependency is present, kick-off meetings should be held face-to-face and with plenty of opportunities for social interaction and relationship building (Anawati, 2006:50) . If a face-to-face kickoff meeting is not feasible, the team can always replicate one virtually. The initial meeting or communication is a critical time because that’s when first impressions are set and when the tone and cadence of the team’s work is determined. If the initial meeting is sloppy and unorganized, it is expected that the team’s success will be a reflection of this. However, if the initial virtual meeting is well organized, structured, and conveys a clear goal, the probability of team success will be higher.
- Specified Normative Behaviors: Structure can be added to teams by formalizing normative behaviors. Because global virtual teams lack the social interaction which would normally determine the normative behaviors in the group, normative behaviors should be specified. The management of the team should also pay additional attention to the clarity and direction of the team. This is a consequence to the lack of communication and interaction that normally exists in collocated teams. A clear and defining goal will help to align the team member’s efforts so that everyone is working in the same direction.
- Work Postings: Another way to make sure all members of the global virtual team are working in the right direction is to post the work virtually so that all the members can see what everyone else is doing. While they made regular use of conference calls, team members did not report on the status of assignments during them. Instead, most (83%) relied on virtual work spaces. Here they posted their work in progress electronically and examined their colleagues’ postings, well in advance of teleconferences. They tended to use the conference calls themselves to discuss disagreements, which they said were more effectively handled in conversation than in writing (Majchrazak, 2004: 5. This method of posting work makes the conference calls and other group communication more effective and less frequent because the team members can see each other's work and progress at anytime. Posting the work helped align the team members’ goals and helped them work effectively and reduced the amount of voice communication that would otherwise have been necessary.
Finally, trust evolves with time. It starts mostly based on one’s trustworthiness while there is little knowledge and a weak structure. It then evolves to some combined balance of trust and structure as members acquire more knowledge of each other, the team’s goals, norms, etc. Along this continuum, trust faces a transition point where simple trustworthiness gives way to early stages of trust.
New virtual communication techniques are being developed all the time as teams seek for ways to improve information sharing. Virtual Communication is achieved through two main methods: Videoconferencing Systems and Collaborative Software Systems.
- Videoconferencing Systems
Videoconferencing is a type of visual collaboration that allows groups or individuals from two or more locations to interact through interactive audio and visual transmissions. Microphones, speakers, cameras and video display are needed along with a system to transfer the data such as the internet or a Local Area Network (LAN).
- Opportunities & Pitfalls
- This is a powerful tool for communicating as few of the facial cues, body language indications or voice intonations and modulations from normal face to face communication are lost as in other technological communication. Teams from distinct locations can come to know one another and develop relationships much more quickly than could be accomplished through more impersonal methods.
- Developing teams becomes easier when the choice of personnel is not restricted by geographic considerations. Videoconferencing and other virtual communication methods allow teams to choose the most appropriate members regardless of where they are located without the cost of travel to bring teams together.
However there are some challenges inherent in this technique.
- It can be difficult to schedule meetings with people or teams spread across broad geographic areas. For a team in Australia to communicate with a team in Mountain Standard Time Zone in the U.S., they may find that their usual office hours only overlap when one company is preparing to leave and the other is just arriving. What is more, the greater the number of members of a team, the more difficult it will be to find a time to meet that fits into everyone’s schedule.
- Another problem that arises is a lack of eye contact. The speakers are talking to a camera and/or faces on a screen. In some ways this is worse than a phone conversation as the technique can provide an incorrect impression of the speaker’s intentions in regards to eye contact.
- Moreover the camera can cause people to behave unnaturally. Stage fright or self-consciousness at appearing before a camera can influence people’s mannerisms, body language and ability to communicate effectively.
- Scheduling and planning ahead are essential. It becomes more difficult to schedule videoconferencing meetings the greater the number of people involved. Unless the scheduling is done far in advance, meetings will often interfere with other duties and responsibilities of those involved.
- Eye contact is important in regular conversation. Team members using videoconferencing should be alerted to the fact that eye contact is difficult when participating in videoconferencing. Different rules apply to this type of communication in that eye contact is often difficult over networks.
- It is important that team members behave naturally on camera. Many people will feel uncomfortable when put before video equipment. Increased exposure will often cure them of these difficulties. The first time in front of videoconferencing equipment can be unnerving but with time, people often feel less conscious of their appearance and how they will be perceived.
1Vertegaal, "Explaining Effects of Eye Gaze on Mediated Group Conversations: Amount or Synchronization?" ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 2002
- Collaborative Software
- Collaborative software is used to allow people to work together towards a common goal without having to meet face to face. The most common techniques are text, email, virtual chatting, calendaring, file sharing, faxes, voice mail, data conferencing, etc.
- Collaborative software is powerful because people can work together regardless of how the schedules may differ. A team with members in different time zones is able to collaborate at different hours regardless of the lack of overlapping time spent in the office so scheduling does not have to be done so far in advance. These techniques are also easy to implement. The equipment can be inexpensive and easy to acquire for all members of the team.
- One powerful aspect of collaborative software is Metcalfe’s Law. Wikipedia describes the law as “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2).” This means that the greater the number of users, the more valuable a system becomes. This was first used to describe the value of fax machines. One is not that useful, but when everybody has one, they become very effective methods of communication. Collaborative software is often similar. One email account is not that effective, but when each person on the team has an email address, we can communicate with the team very quickly and easily.
Communication can be tricky with collaborative software.
- Much of the body language and nonverbal communication of regular communication is lost with this technique. Emails that are meant to be funny or sarcastic can be interpreted as just mean or angry.
- Although scheduling can be easier, it can also be hard to manage. Team members do not need to be together all at the same time, which is nice but, people often forget deadlines when they are not planning for a meeting or seeing each other face to face.
- A lack of cohesion often results from this technique. More than one person working on a document that is shared on a network or over email often results in a disjointed style or conflicting topics. This is often the case when a team is working together on a specific project that will be presented to a certain audience. For example a team may be preparing a report that will be presented to management. If they are not careful the report may hold conflicting ideas or not flow in an intelligible manner.
- Team members should be trained on the possible misinterpretations in this type of communication. It is often beneficial to have more than one person review emails that will be sent to a large audience to understand how they may be received. If people are made aware of these possibilities, they will be less likely to commit these errors or to misinterpret what they receive.
- Team members need to be managed effectively. Deadlines should be enforced with regards to email communications. It may be necessary to impose deadlines on how long people should take to respond to an email or make updates to a shared file.
- Efforts should be made to analyze the project as a whole. Groups and teams should have designated leaders that ensure unity of purpose and a cohesive finished product.
Cultural differences among team members may lead to various instances of miscommunication since different cultures tend to contain certain biases, assumptions, or views of the world. “Regardless of the source, the fact remains that the ‘cultural factor’ may lead to information distortion and various instances of miscommunication (Kayworth, 2000:191).” “Communication among global virtual teams may be extremely difficult to manage and less effective than more traditional settings (Kayworth, 2000: 184).” “These communication problems may also be magnified by disparity among technology infrastructures, as well as differences in technology proficiency among team members. Finally, when cultural differences are added to this mix of potential issues, the management of global virtual teams may become exceedingly complex (Kayworth, 2000: 184).”
Selecting a Communication Medium
Global virtual teams are dependent on their ability to communicate with each other rapidly, reliably, and over long distances. If the team can’t communicate with each other effectively, they can’t work together effectively. This makes the reliability of the technology very important so that the flow of work can continue without interruptions. The media chosen should also be carefully selected so that the end users, or those who are using the information, as compared to those who are giving the information, are able to communicate effectively.
Establishing a pattern Focusing on and following a strong repeating pattern of communication will set a virtual team up for success. This pattern is determined by the frequency of meetings held through the richest available media, repeating itself as a “heartbeat, rhythmically pumping new life into the group’s processes (Maznevski, 2000:486).” The group may try to establish the frequency of these “rich meetings” according to the interdependence required by the tasks and their level of group relationship (Maznevski, 2000:488). However in global virtual teams it’s important to remember that logistics commonly limit the frequency of these meetings, especially face-to-face meetings. In this case it’s the frequency of the meetings that determines the frequency of the high interdependent and complex decision processes they address, such as generating commitment, building relationships, creating social interaction and comprehensive decision making. (Maznevsky, 2000:483-484).
Misrepresentation “As team members communicate, they tend to filter information through their cultural ‘lenses’, thereby giving rise to a potentially broad range of misinterpretations or distortions (Kayworth, 2000:184).” Communication styles differ wildly among various cultures. Even if someone from another country speaks English, this is not going to be the same English as that spoken elsewhere. This makes non-verbal communication, such as pauses, silence, and expressions which differ between cultures more important in global virtual teams and should be known and understood by other team members.
- Speak slowly and clearly, use a higher tone of voice, avoid slang and colloquialisms, keep words and sentences short and confirm understanding through repetition and by asking questions.
- Avoid using slang and jargons, use simple short words and sentences and maintain focus.
- Use visual aids and send pre-meeting information to enhance participation in meetings.
- Understand and be aware of cultural differences in praise and criticism.
- Avoid humor, irony, and metaphors as these usually don’t translate well and may be offensive.
- Understand that silence, referred to as the most concerning behavior, may not reflect a lack of interest but may simply represent time needed to think or just wait for a formal invitation to participate.
- Respect for religious beliefs and allowance for differences in time zones were the most easily changed behaviors.
"Netiquette": Utilizing Virtual Communication Technologies Responsibly and Respectfully
Virtual communication technologies constitute some of the most essential tools employed by members of virtual teams. Indeed, effective communication in a virtual team setting can impact every functional component of the team and can largely determine the success or failure of the team. Managing virtual teams requires the establishment of communication ground-rules and expectations. As in any organization, an environment that fosters mutual respect, creativity, positive interpersonal relations, and teamwork, depends largely upon both the quality of information shared among team members, and the efficacy of communication between team members.
Oftentimes, a failure to communicate respectfully and responsibly can hamper the efficacy and functionality of the virtual team. Setting forth network etiquette (or 'netiquette') guidelines is an important component to effective virtual team management. By establishing and implementing netiquette standards, the efficacy and stability of the virtual team will be more easily managed and maintained. Virtual teams represent unlimited global business, learning and networking opportunities. The adherence to netiquette standards will help to maintain and ensure decorum, professionalism, courtesy, and ethical behavior.
By implementing and applying netiquette standards to the virtual team environment, team members will be better equipped to avoid informational nuances and insinuations that are so easily misinterpreted. The "communication gap" that is so prevalent in virtual communication technologies (i.e. absence of body language, voice and tonal qualities, emotion, and personal interplay) may also be lessened. Common barriers to virtual communication may also be identified and overcome through the use of clearly established netiquette standards.
Referring to the need for increased knowledge, familiarity, and implementation of "netiquette, David Krane, Director of Corporate Communications at Google, Inc., once said, "We live in an era where hundreds and millions of professionals are putting down the pen and increasingly relying on e-mail as a primary form of communication. [Proper mastery of netiquette will benefit] both internet newbies and new entrants to the [virtual] workplace who may be making a transition from paper to computer or from instant messaging and e-mail between friends to more formal electronic communications."
- Netiquette Standards
- Respecting the E-mail Addresses of Others:
Do not give out others' e-mail addresses without first obtaining permission to do so. E-mail addresses represent a vital component of one's virtual personal space. As such, giving out e-mail addresses without permission constitutes a breach of trust and an invasion of personal space and privacy.
- E-mail "spam" or "bulk" List Collection/Distribution:
Recent legislation has, in many states, created barriers and penalties to those who engage or utilize bulk- or mass-mail communications. Common courtesy asks that individuals not collect other people's email addresses for such purposes. If the virtual team in which you operate utilizes bulk-mail as a business process, netiquette standards require the inclusion of a genuine return e-mail address in which recipients may respond and request to be removed from future mailing lists.
- Proper Personal and Business Identification:
The organizational structure of virtual teams often requires proper identification in instances of cold-contacts, solicitations, research and development, networking, and day-to-day communications. When establishing a contact for the first time, include the following identifiers: your full name and title, company name, address, genuine e-mail address, and occupation or objective. The utilization of e-mail address providers such as hotmail, gmail, or yahoo, is not recommended and can be perceived as "cloaked" or "anonymous" e-mail addresses. The utilization of an email address that originates from your company is preferred.
- Information Inquiries:
One of the great benefits that has arisen from the virtual expansion of today's global economy is the increase in available information. The increase in available information has also catalyzed an increase in information transfer velocity. The effective management of virtual teams also relies upon the ability to acquire, process, and use information. Though requesting information from others is beneficial to you and your team, it can also represent a significant imposition and inconvenience to those individuals that you query. In the process of information gathering, include the following elements: an explanation of who you are, and explanation of why you need the information, and an expression of gratitude.
- Expressing Appreciation:
Each response you receive from team members, outside consultants, or individuals contacted for information, deserves a reply of gratitude. Your "thank you" response should contain the following components: reference to the request (e.g. "thank you for responding to my query regarding fossil fuel), your full name and title, company name, address, and URL.
- A "two-way" Street:
Business is a two-way street: if you give, you will receive (and vice versa). When something of value or substance has been provided you, offer return assistance, or extend an invitation to visit your website.
- Proprietary Rights and Information:
Respecting proprietary rights and information is not only courteous, it is the law. The expansive selection of information on the web represents countless hours of contributions made by individuals and groups. The work of these individuals and groups is oftentimes downloadable or print-ready. In any case, you must respect the proprietary rights of those who have contributed and/or created the information that has been made available to you. Respecting the authors by using accurate and appropriate citations is essential to the protection and perpetuation of open-access intellectual property. You should also respect copyright.
- Courteous and Professional Virtual Behavior:
Courteous and professional virtual behavior is rooted in the most basic rules that govern etiquette. When asking for information, use courteous language such as "please," "I would appreciate" and "thank you." Failure to apply these basic rules may give rise to dislike, disrespect, and uncooperative relationships.
- Doing Your Part First:
The anonymity and potential loss of personal responsibility or obligation that can be pervasive in virtual forums placed the burden of responsibility on the requesting or interested party. If you have not done your part, and contributed to the topic at hand, do not believe that you will be the recipient of free professional work. It is necessary that you demonstrate personal contributions, investment, and effort toward your goal. Seek advice, not cheap labor.
- Admit and Own your Personal Level of Internet Savvy:
Do not be ashamed to admit that you are a newcomer to the virtual arena. In this computer era, there remain a surprising number of people who lack computer skill and knowledge. Many people in the virtual arena are prone to behave and act like mentors. If you are a newcomer, utilize their offerings and remember to apply the rules of netiquette as you glean information and knowledge from them. Own your respective level of expertise - and you will be respected.
- Virtual White Boards, Chat Rooms, and Bulletin Boards:
Avoid using jargon and include complete words in conjunction with abbreviations. Make sure that what you say is understandable to any viewer or audience. Monitor yourself - answer questions that others have posed only if your response will add value to the general body on knowledge. Do not respond with "contact me." The virtual community represents a fluid body of knowledge and contributions. As such, it is not a place for foul or inappropriate language. Respect breeds respect. Do not use bulletin boards, chat rooms and white boards for blatant advertising purposes. They are intended for networking and idea exchange. If another person makes a contribution that is noteworthy or of value to you, acknowledge the contribution.
- Anonymity on the Web:
Virtual forums allow postings and contributions to be made anonymously. In many cases, individuals have valid and legitimate reasons to maintain their anonymity. However, one should never abuse the ability to contribute anonymously. Those who remain anonymous in order to treat others with disrespect and cynicism are not acting as socially responsible virtual community members. One should also remember that virtual forums are an excellent way to network with others. If one were to respond or act anonymously, the ability for others to contact or network with that individual is impossible.
- Strategy and Opportunity:
Much of the virtual community, especially white boards, chat rooms, and bulletin boards, are regulated by organizers who post guidelines and an explanation of purpose. By respecting and following these guidelines, your contributions will be more meaningful. As a meaningful contributor to the virtual community, you will establish worth in the eyes of the organizers. The establishment of business rapport in the virtual arena can result in business opportunities, services, and negotiations. Let your actions and contributions reflect your personal strategy and opportunities may be opened to you.
- Maintaining a Professional Attitude:
Do not try to "grab" or pounce upon a business opportunity. If what is required by team members or clients exceeds your level of expertise or is outside the bounds of your working relationship, refer the enquirer to a peer or other source specializing in that area. Treat your peers with the same respect and consideration that you extend to customers. Behave with integrity and honesty. Do not substitute your best interests for those of the customer. Maintain mutually respectful relations with peers and the entire virtual community. Speak well of others. Do not pretend to be what you are not. Remember that virtual communication and relations are almost instant - never respond or act hastily.
Strong business contacts can be established through frequent interaction and steady communication in which netiquette standards are employed. Negotiations and bargaining form an integral part of any business deal. As a manager, you have a responsibility to your virtual group or team to promote netiquette standards. By adhering to netiquette standards, your team will be better positioned and respected in the virtual community. Some things that you can do to ensure the successful implementation of netiquette standards include:
- Establishing written guidelines for dealing with illegal, improper, or forged traffic.
- Handle requests in a timely fashion - by the next business day.
- Respond promptly to people who have concerns about receiving improper or illegal messages. Chain letters should not be allowed.
- Explain any system or software rules to your team members and ensure adequate training.
- Make sure that popular information has the bandwidth to support it.
- Don't allow your team members to point to other sites without asking first.
- Make sure your posted materials are appropriate for the supporting organization.
- Maintain a consistent look to your information. Make sure the look and feel remain the same throughout your applications.
- Be sensitive to the longevity of your information. Be sure that all sensitive materials are time-dated.
Teams are formed based on the expectation that the teams will produce a better product than an individual. If a single resource works from home or away from actual office you consider that team as Virtual Team. Whether it is Virtual team or Team in the same room, information sharing plays a vital role for team’s increased productivity and success. Information sharing is more problematic when the team is spread out geographically. Virtual teams not only face a challenge with information sharing, but also task sharing. In virtual teams if information is not shared correctly the whole purpose of the virtual team might be in jeopardy. If one or more persons works from different place then sharing of information becomes very complex not only in the distribution of information but also in the information gathering.
Virtual team can be a global team; global team is similar to virtual team where part of the team will be outside the country. Because information sharing plays a vital role in team’s success, to minimize the impact of loss in information sharing whether it is related to the technical or application perspective of the work, one of the best way is to rotate the individuals who work from a different country or who are part of the global team or virtual team.
How transparent you run or manage the team, still most of the times it is hard to see perspective of the target or goal of a team, if part of the team is in a different place, where that’s country’s culture inhibits the resource to think beyond its culture or its system. Team can have a rotational position, where one team member comes to onsite and learn the process or application and could go back to his country and transfer his/her knowledge he/she gained when he/she was at onsite. Meanwhile team leader could bring another resource in place of first team member who visited onsite to learn more about technical, application, culture or process followed at onsite, and the first resource who went back could train or share the information or experiences to rest of the team, so that team could understand better about the depth of process, application, technical things in the project why things are done in such a way. By doing this the productivity of whole team would increase by proper information sharing. Similar productivity can be achieved if team leader wants to bring different resource from offshore team once or twice at different times for a period of 3-6 months. This system would be very cost effective if the ratio of whole team is 1:5, which means, 5 on-site and 25 offshore resources in a team.
Virtual teams can be more diversified geographically; because of this virtual team can bring more variety of information to share among the team to its success. Team with similar background and experience could bring the same information to the team which can be considered as redundant, where you could not see the edge in the team compared to the information sharing with virtual team where chances of team could be from different backgrounds.
Most of the time to share the information within the team, trust is one of the main factors. Unless you know the person with whom you are working it is hard to tell what kind of personality is that resource. Building a trust is easier when resources work together because you could know the person’s feeling when you talk with them directly. If the resource is working from a remote location, it is hard to see the reaction of that resource. In my work experience when I worked with remote employees many times, I ponder to myself whether it is accurate to share this information or not, because I do not know the person’s personality with whom I am working.
Most of the times virtual teams are on different time zones and because of time zones, information might not be received at right time and could see delays.
Establishing Ground Rules and Norms
A team to succeed in its goal, it should have ground rules and norms set for the team. Rules are useful in determining what kind of behavior is acceptable in the team, how team members interact, and when to interact in the team, which usually prevents misunderstandings and disagreement.
It is good to document the rules on common shared folder, so that every body could have access to the network folder. When new member joins the team, it is easier for the person who is giving the orientation to new team member know what the ground rules and norms of the team. Even when experienced resources aren’t around him/her, still s/he could communicate well in the team as well as outside team, if the ground rules and norms are shared with new member.
Need to outset regarding the cultural differences if the virtual team is globally placed and address the styles on how to address if one arises.
Members in the virtual team should learn to trust one another to create an environment where one should feel comfortable stating opinions and not personally attack each other. Should not penalize for any miscommunication and should try to think with different perspectives. All members’ opinions are to be considered equal. Disagreements and differences of opinions should be honored, should be given a fair hearing, and conflicts should be resolved by a defined process.
- Pitfalls and Solutions
Virtual team should recognize the problem of resources working in time zones and organizing the team meeting and conference calls flexible to all resources in the team. Updating the status reports to team leaders by timely manner, so that team leader could access the load of the work and assign it different resources accordingly.
Hard on some resources, if the time set for the conference calls do not suit those individual’s time zone.
Tough to be open and honest with one another to create psychologically safe environment in virtual team, but by taking some time to socialize before each meeting on general topics outside the events of the team work. Messages could be taken wrongly, because there are no associated non-verbal messages indicating how to interpret them.
Virtual Team Meetings
- With members of a virtual team spanning different time zones, languages, and cultures, it can be complex and difficult to organize, optimize, and manage an effective team meeting. Managers, who are sensitive to these issues and are diligent in their preparation, can get the most out of any virtual team meeting.
- Cost: One of the greatest advantages of a virtual meeting over a traditional meeting is the low cost. Airfare for corporate executives to attend a traditional meeting can be exorbitantly priced, especially in the aftermath of 9.11. Participants can join a teleconference practically anywhere telephone service is available, reducing unnecessary travel costs. Many corporations have negotiated long-distance charges to an almost negligible amount, allowing employees to call across the world for not much more than an in-state call.
- Time: Virtual meetings can save valuable work time, even for organizations with closely located facilities. Travel between buildings or locations can eat up precious time that could be spent on other tasks. In large manufacturing companies, it can take 30 minutes to an hour to get from one side of the facility to the other. Some managers waste half a day's work in just commuting between various meetings. Given the price per hour of top-level executives' salaries, even a short traditional meeting can be very costly.
- Group Size: As with traditional teams, if a virtual team has too many members, this can break down communication and reduce team effectiveness.
- Conference Call Domination: We have all experienced conference calls where various corporate department representatives huddle around a conference room phone to speak with distant affiliates. The larger group, which is usually in the corporate office, tends to dominate the conversation. In addition, larger groups tend to carry on side conversations that are inaudible to the people on the other end of the call and put them at a disadvantage. One of the authors has also experienced conferenced calls that were "hijacked" by the ranking executive and used for a personal or political agenda.
- Common Language: Even if all members of a virtual team speak English, they may not speak the same English. Others may not be native speakers. English spoken in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Malaysia is quite different.
- Keep group size to no more than 7 members.
- Again, keep group size small, including conference call groups. If possible have some team members call in on their desk phones, to minimize side conversations. In the case of a hijacking invitee, have a printed agenda with time allotted to each topic. If the meeting gets off track, express your desire to not let the call go longer than expected and use the agenda as an excuse to change the subject.
- Use common terms that all can understand. Avoid slang and metaphor, e.g. US sports analogies. Speak slowly and clearly and ask for confirmation from all members that the discussion was understood. As in any environment, be sure to ask leading questions verifying that members specifically tasked with something have a complete understanding of the assignment. Many telephone conversations or conference calls have a few-second lag time. Be patient and don't interrupt.
Traditionally, organizational development occurs in a face-to-face or voice-to-voice mode, utilizing observation, personal interaction, and personal relations to develop or redevelop a coherent and appropriate business model or organizational process. As virtual teams become more common place, the need for organizational development persists. The virtual arena, in many cases, requires a modified managerial approach to organizational development.
The management and development of a virtual entity may require that the execution of needs assessments, focus groups, and interviews, be done electronically via a collaborative software system or group support system. These systems allow users to "hide" or "disable" their personal identities during information gathering sessions and interact with others under the guarantee of anonymity. In some cases, employees and virtual team members may approach the process of organizational development with apprehension. Anonymity, for the purpose of information gathering, may serve to ally such apprehension.
- Employee satisfaction can influence the efficacy and longevity of organizational development. There is no consensus in the literature regarding the impact of a virtual team structure on employee satisfaction. However, most studies indicate that participating in a virtual team environment and/or working from home can result in:
- an increase of employee job satisfaction
- reduced likelihood of employee turn-over
- reduction in role stressors
- increased satisfaction with supervisors
- increased commitment to the organization
- decreased satisfaction with peers
- decreased satisfaction regarding opportunities for advancement and promotion
These findings emphasize the importance of measuring and responding to employee outcomes as part of managing in a virtual team environment.
- Videoconferencing is a useful tool that can be used to facilitate small group interviews and interventions. The use of videoconferencing technologies provides a medium in which all participants can be viewed on each individual screen regardless of geographic location. Some believe that this may be as effective as a face-to-face experience.
- Research has shown that the medium used for teaching technical skills has no effect on students’ learning outcomes. One can use videotape, CD-ROM, videoconferences, teleconferences, web-based training, or instruction manuals. However, some skills (e.g. communication and some management/leadership skills) are best taught in a face-to-face environment. In these instances, consideration should be given to the use of training centers or external training venues.
- Pitfalls and Solutions
The increasing use of global virtual teams demands special attention to differences in culture, communication barriers, and inherent trust existing among the team members. While these teams are not fundamentally different from traditional teams, additional focus and effort in some key areas is necessary to ensure team success. These include knowing the cultural differences that exist in the team and taking steps to educate the other team members and understanding how this affects how they should approach different situations. Because global virtual teams don’t experience the same physical contact that traditional teams do, extra effort is required from all team members to maintain trust and to promote practices that encourage team members to work well together and give reasons to trust each of the other members. It is also important to keep in mind that there is no set recipe for success in any team, especially global virtual teams. Only by understanding the challenges and differences between global virtual teams and traditional teams, management and team members can better prepare themselves and take advantage of their strengths to promote success.
Where In The World Is My Team http://www.tmaworld.com/global_teams_virtual_teams/
Working Together When Apart http://online.wsj.com/public/page/2_1304.html
Managing Virtual Teams (video) http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid572031310
Managing Virtual Teams (pdf) http://www.groupjazz.com/pdf/vteams-toronto.pdf
17 Pointers for Managing Virtual Teams http://www.squarewheels.com/content2/virtual.html
10 Tips for managing global teams http://gadishamia.wordpress.com/2007/10/13/leading-a-global-team-the-starter-guide/
Managing Virtual Teams (HR Magazine) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3495/is_6_47/ai_87461019
Best Practices of Managing Virtual Teams http://www.expressitpeople.com/20040531/cover.shtml
New Work Rules (Stanford Business) http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/sbsm0305/feature_virtual_teams.shtml
Virtual Teams Over the Internet http://www.managementhelp.org/grp_skll/virtual/virtual.htm
6 Ways to Work More Effectively on a Virtual Team (Microsoft) http://www.microsoft.com/atwork/worktogether/virtual.mspx
We researched dozens of tools to find the most useful tools for managing remote workers https://www.hivedesk.com/blog/managing-remote-workers/