Virtual Teams Challenges And Solutions

The Leading Virtually blog contains many articles that virtual team leaders are likely to find useful for effective team performance. In this page, we have taken our blog posts and organized them on the basis of issues that virtual teams face during different stages of their lifecyle. Specifically, we describe the different stages of a virtual teams lifecycle and, for each stage, we identify the issues that a virtual team faces, actions it could take to address those issues, and Leading Virtually blog posts or items that cover those issues.

Stage 0: Pre-launch Reality Check
Before you decide to launch a virtual team project, we recommend that you check the existence of relevant resources, support, and conditions for your project.

Issue: Factors external to the project as well as nature of the work to be accomplished can a priori determine whether the project  is likely to succeed or fail.
Action step:
Evaluate the availability of resources and support that your planned virtual team project would need to succeed (e.g., appropriate collaboration technology, champion, training). Also evaluate the nature of the work to be accomplished.
Related blog posts:
Virtual Teams – Beneficial or Detrimental, Confessions of a Telecommuter, So You Think You’d Like to Telecommute?

Issue: Leading in virtual teams is different from leading in face-to-face teams.
Action step:
Learn what it will take to succeed as a virtual team’s leader.
Related blog posts:
Leading in Face-to-face Teams versus Virtual Teams

Stage 1: Launching the Virtual Team Project

The first stage of a virtual team consists of the launching of the project. Selecting team members is certainly an issue faced in this stage. Once team members are selected, the focus during this stage is on getting team members acquainted with one another and preparing them for the specific challenges of working virtually. While most virtual team members are very capable workers, at this stage most teams benefit greatly from the facilitation of a team leader.

Issue: Having the right set of competent and dedicated team members can be a large factor in making or breaking a project.
Action step: Use project requirements to determine necessary skills. Be sure to give importance to the capability to work virtually.
Related blog posts:
Recruiting for Virtual Collaboration and Virtual Teams

Issue: It is not easy for virtual team members to get to know one another.
Action step: Schedule a kickoff session; use an ice-breaker to help team members get to know one another.
Related blog items: Sample ice-breaker

Issue: Team members are uncertain about the project, including what it is about, how it fits with their roles and expectations, and how it is connected to organizational goals.
Action step: Present an overview of the project, including description, key stakeholders, and benefits/rewards from the project.
Related blog posts: How Do I Begin to Improve The Functioning of My Virtual Team

Issue: Team members may be unfamiliar with one another’s strengths & skills.
Action step: Compile a document of individual qualifications, experience, skills, and other strengths.
Related blog posts: None

Issue: Virtual team projects are characterized by uncertainty about working in a virtual team setting.
Action step: Engage your team in a discussion about the challenges that lie ahead.
Related blog posts: None

Stage 2: Establishing Norms

In the second stage in the virtual team lifecycle, the team establishes norms. Because virtual teams have little informal interaction, this is another stage in which leader facilitation is crucial. In this stage, challenges include building trust without face-to-face interaction, creating team identity, setting work standards, and clarifying roles and expectations.

Issue: It is difficult in virtual teams to develop trust among members.
Action step: Because virtual team trust is initially based on reliability, assign initial tasks that help team members demonstrate their reliability.
Related blog posts: Building Trust in Virtual Teams, Transfer of Trust in Virtual Team Collaboration

Issue: The team must build identity and ownership, roles & expectations are unclear, and there are no standards for doing work and for quality of deliverables.
Action step: As a team, create a team compact (guidelines for creating a team compact are available. During this step, your team will decide which collaboration technologies to use to support its work. Email, telephone conferencing, and web-conferencing (e.g., WebEx or LiveMeeting) are commonly employed by virtual teams.
Related blog posts: Team Compact, What Quick Tips Do You Suggest for Leading Virtually?, How Do I Begin to Improve the Functioning of My Virtual Team, Helping Your Virtual Team Take Ownership of the Team’s Project, Difficulty in the Trenches of Virtual Teamwork, Motivation in Virtual Teams: Lessons from Virtual Worlds, The Future of Virtual Teams: Collaboration in 3D Web, Time to Think Differently About Collaboration in Virtual Worlds, A Mashup for Virtual Team Collaboration, Rethinking the Value of Virtual Worlds for Virtual Team CollaborationEmergent Collaboration: The Reason Why Email Should Not Be Used for Collaboration, Freeing Yourself From Email, Wonderland: A Tool for Online Collaboration, The Advantages of Face to Face Meetings for Virtual Teams, Fostering Ambient Awareness in Virtual Teams, Do You Plan for Technology Breakdown, Are you Okay If I’m Okay?, An Egregiously Overlooked Use for Virtual Worlds

Stage 3: Process Optimization

The third stage of the virtual team process consists of the team focusing on getting the task accomplished. But rather than just being about performance, this stage is most crucially characterized by a constant assessment of the quality of performance. In this stage, a leader’s vigilance over progress, communication, use of technology, and member interaction is strongly advised.

Issue: Assuring that team member knowledge and effort translate into performance.
Action step: Provide training and support for working in a virtual team, including technology training and support.
Related blog posts: Making Virtual Team Leadership Happen, Using Virtual Worlds for Leadership Development, Are “Casual” Virtual Team Participants Endangering Virtual Teams

Issue: It is difficult for team members to maintain motivation and attention for the project.
Action steps: Communicate frequently, summarize large amounts of information into useful and relevant synopses, provide feedback to team members for both successes and problems.
Related blog posts: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear, Lessons from the Military for Collaboration in Virtual Teams, Motivation in Virtual Teams: Lessons from Virtual Worlds, Leading to Increase Commitment in Virtual World Collaboration, Manipulate Perceptions to Improve Performance in Virtual Teams, Improving Virtual Team Leadership Using Technology, The Mind Has a Body of Its Own, Email Etiquette: Is The Thank You Email Simply a Thank You?, Building Social Relationships in Virtual Teams, Spread Your Virtual Smile, Really

Issue: Conflict as well as cultural and geographical differences can interfere with team performance.
Action step: Monitor team interactions to prevent the damaging results of conflict. Manage cultural and location differences.
Related blog posts: Culture Matters in Virtual Teams, Implicit Communication and Culture: What it Means for Leading Virtual Teams, Promoting Cooperation Among Subgroups in Virtual Teams, So Far and Yet So Near

Issue: On a complex project, it is necessary to objectively assess progress.
Action step: Introduce proper controls and conduct After Action Reviews regularly.
Related blog posts: After Action Review, Controls in Virtual Teams: The Case of Boeing, Overcoming Virtual Team Challenges: After Action Review, Assessing the Quality of Collaboration in Virtual Teams

Issue: Virtual teams are not often visible to stakeholders.
Action step: Periodically touch base with and report to stakeholders to keep the team visible.
Related blog posts: None

Stage 4: Finishing & Adjourning

The final stage of your virtual team project occurs when the team finalizes the work and deliverables, and adjourns.

Issue: Team members might not be fully aware of what they have learned on the project team.
Action step: Hold a debriefing session to discuss acquired skills.
Related blog posts: None

Issue: Adjourning may mean a final goodbye in virtual teams.
Action step: Celebrate the team’s achievements with a final farewell gathering.
Related blog posts & items: None

Issue: Final reports and deliverables are due to stakeholders.
Action step: Make sure all parties are informed of the team’s results, including team members.
Related blog posts: None

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