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How Can a Manager Build an Effective Virtual Team?

According to the article “Learning the secrets of long-distance leadership” more than 20% of today’s workforce are “working virtually” (Burtha, 2004). Some of the reasons for these new virtual settings are lower costs, maximizing productivity, better service to customers and capitalizing on globally dispersed talent (Burtha, 2004). The virtual team needs to have a clear purpose and focus (Bock, 2003). This could include the team’s mission, the team’s objective along with any business problems the team will be trying to solve.

Each member’s role should be clearly defined especially because most contact will be through virtual contacts. Creating a virtual team charter was suggested in one of my readings as a way to explain the team’s mission, the business problem (s) the team is attempting to solve along with including the team’s objective (Combs, 2007). Another thing important for a virtual team is that the participants have time to get to know each other if they haven’t yet worked together. It is recommended that there be regular contact sessions for this.

If possible, an occasional physical meeting could benefit the virtual team. Having “blackout periods” (Combs, 2007) where the individual members blackout times on their schedule according to what ever time zone the meetings are scheduled for, allowing all members to know in advance the time to be reserved for their regular virtual meeting. One thing that was mentioned in Wally Bock’s article, “Some Rules for Virtual Teams,” was the importance of the different communication rules when working online.

As Bock put it, “People who are corresponding online often seem to be or are more brusque, and sometimes even rude, than they would be in face-to-face conversation” (Bock, 2003). Another author mentioned establishing communication etiquette. Some of the things included in this communication etiquette included actively listening, avoiding multitasking while “demonstrating disciplined behavior that is necessary for the virtual team’s success” (Combs, 2007). Good communication and periodical assessment of the group by the manager helps prevent any issues to become “full-blown problems” (Combs, 2007).

As far as team communication and team input, it’s suggested that input be solicited in a way that encourages each member to be comfortable with open dialogue. It is also important that input doesn’t “apply value judgments to team differences and is conscious of diversity” (Combs, 2007). Most research I’ve read on virtual team communication encourages healthy debate. Most e-mail software has a grouping or list-making feature that can be used to improve the effectiveness of a virtual team (Bock, 2003).

This feature, like in Yahoo groups, for example, allows each member’s name to be put in the group of individuals and thereby each member can both log on individually and add messages for other members and the group can also designate given time(s) when they will meet online at a certain time within a particular time zone. Overall though, the basics of putting virtual teams together and managing them for results are still basically similar to non-virtual workplaces. Managing an effective virtual team usually has more to do with how human beings interact than with the technology they will be using.

References

Bock, W (2003). Some Rules for Virtual Teams. The Journal for Quality & Participation. Fall 2003, 43. Burtha, M. & Stacey Connaughton. (2004, Mar-Apr). Learning the Secrets of Long-Distance Leadership. Retrieved April 07, 2007, from http://web. ebscohost. com Chinowsky, P. & Eddy Rojas (2003). Virtual Teams: Guide to Successful Implementation. July 2003. Combs, W. & Stephanie Peacocke. (2007, February ). Leading Virtual Teams. Training & Development, Retrieved April 07, 2007, from http://web. ebscohost. com

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