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Leading and Managing Virtual Teams

Intuitively we would think that the performance of a team where team members are co-located would be higher than that of a team whose members are widely dispersed (virtual teams). However recent studies are finding this need not be the case.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

More and more organisations are using virtual teams to deliver greater efficiencies economically and in reduced cycle turnaround times / speed of service. Virtual teams also allow organisations to benefit from demographic diversity as well as diversity of thought.   

A study by Siebdrat et al (2009) found that virtual teams perform better when high quality task related processes are in place.  This allows the team to focus on the task to be performed and their respective roles.  The study also found that socio-emotional processes were also important (i.e. a focus on people).

Interestingly Siebdrat et al makes the point that even small separations can have a significant impact on team effectiveness and efficiency and that in this respect those teams working on separate floors in the same building can be less efficient than those working in different countries.

Academic studies can be an interesting read but what are the practical applications.  For those leading virtual teams you would do well to keep the following in mind:

  • Maximise interactions of the team.
  • Emphasise teamwork skills.
  • Develop self sufficiency and self leadership in team members.
  • Conduct face to face meetings wherever possible especially for a project kick-off.
  • Foster a global culture where staff are encouraged to take up positions in other countries (or states or regions).
  • Be sure the task and goals are clear, well understood and aligned.
  • Build and monitor trust.
  • Ensure communication protocols are clear.
  • Communicate outside as well as inside the team.
  • Coach and mentor team members.
  • Establish ground rules & norms.
  • Provide timely and specific feedback.
  • Establish personal contact.
  • Participate regularly in team calls and meetings.
  • Ensure adequate collaboration.
  • Set up and agree process for deliverables / milestones review.
  • Identify early signs of team dysfunction and take corrective action.

The above are just a handful of useful tips to keep in mind. Intelligent Performance can provide you with further insights in building team effectiveness (virtual or real). Feel free to contact us for more information.


Siebdrat, F. et al.2009 How to Manage Virtual Teams MIT Sloan Management Review Summer V 50 No.4  http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/articles/2009/summer/50412/how-to-manage-virtual-teams/ accessed 1 February 2009.


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