Buchanan & Huczynski (2010, pp.344) define a virtual team as a team working on a shared task in different geographical, temporal and cultural locations facilitated by communication technologies, much like our group projects for this module.
Maznevski & Chudoba (2000) discuss the rise in the use of globally distributed teams to achieve shared objectives but acknowledge the difficulties of forming a team when the groups almost never meet face-to-face. Contrast that with a traditional team who are invariably based in the same building and have the opportunity to meet and discuss on a regular basis.
Without the advent of communication technology, the concept of a virtual team would be difficult or impossible to achieve as the tools have enabled communication over great distances and provided the opportunity to work closely across cultural and political divides. Maznevski & Chudoba (2000) conclude that it is possible to form a successful virtual team but it requires initial face-to-face contact and subsequent regular virtual meetings.
Kirkman, et al. (2003) identify five main challenges for managers setting up a virtual team based on interviews with leaders and employees already working in virtual teams:
- Building Trust
- Maximizing Process Gains and Minimizing Process Losses
- Overcoming Feelings of Isolation
- Balancing Technical and Interpersonal Skills
- Assessment and Recognition of Performance
If these issues can be addressed, Kirkman et al. conclude that there is no reason why a virtual team should not be successful.
To build any team (physical or virtual), the key is successful communication. While there are numerous communication tools available via the web, the ones which will work best are the ones participants are comfortable using and will work with the technology limitations (e.g. bandwidth and hardware restrictions). Aneas, et al. (n.d.) discuss the merits of different technologies in virtual communication, suggesting for example, that video conferencing may not be appropriate for some multinational teams who share different first languages as the pace of conversation can be a barrier to comprehension.
Video conferencing and teleconferencing are two means of engaging with employees and building ‘team spirit’ by allowing the individuals to visually engage with each other. Electronicdawn (2013) provides a summary of a research paper by Hofmann which suggests that video conferencing opposed to telephone and email communication, resulted in not only increased productivity but 81% of participants reported an increase in ‘team spirit’.
Where there are significant differences in time zone, synchronous communication like video or telephone conferencing may not be practical, leaving the only option to be asynchronous communication.
Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999) examine the use of asynchronous communication in the workplace. With this type of communication, not all participants need to be online at the same time and can contribute when it is convenient via online discussions. Jarvenpaa and Leidner assert that although initial trust is high using these methods, participants are less tolerant of mistakes and failures.
Vonderman (2003) experienced similar results in an asynchronous online classroom but suggests that skilled tutors can facilitate communication just as a skilled manager could lead the virtual team.
Aneas, A., Cosgrove, C., Harper, A., Niesen, A., Reich, E. & Simons, G. (n.d.) Tools for Global Virtual Teams. [Online]. Available from: http://www.diversophy.com/gsi/Articles/Tools_for_GVT.pdf (Accessed: 3 February 2013).
Buchanan, D. & Huczynski, A. (2010) Organizational Behaviour. 7th Ed. London: Pearson.
Electronicdawn (2013) Video-conferencing ups productivity of virtual teams. [Online]. Available from: http://www.it-director.com/business/innovation/news_release.php?rel=35893 (Accessed: 3 February 2013).
Jarvenpaa, S. & Leidner, D. (1999) ‘Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams’, Organization Science, 10(6), pp.791-815, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselc&AN=edselc.2-52.0-0033265783&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 3 February 2013).
Kirkman, B., Rosen, B., Gibson, C. & Tesluk, P. (2002) ‘Five Challenges to Virtual Team Success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc.’, The Academy of Management Executive, 16(3), pp. 67-79, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjaf&AN=edsjaf.10.2307.4165869&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 3 February 2013).
Maznevski, M. & Chudoba, K. (2000) ‘Bridging Space over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectivenes’, Organization Science, 11(5), pp.473-479, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjad&AN=edsjad.10.2307.2640340&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 3 February 2013).
Vonderman, S. (2003) ‘An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: a case study’, The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), pp. 77-90, ScienceDirect [Online]. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S1096751602001641 (Accessed: 3 February 2013).