Virtual teams refer to a group of people who work across space, time, and organizational boundaries with electronic communication being the main form of interaction. Most project teams work virtually in one form or another. This includes working from different time zones, geographical locations, firm-wide boundaries or with other third parties. However, the concept of virtual teams faces various challenges mainly due to lack of face to face interaction. Below is an insight into the virtual team challenges and their management.
Most virtual teams cite communication as one of their greatest challenges. They lack informal, everyday face to face communication, which often results in loss of information or miscommunication. The team members often go for days without contact which can lead to a feeling of isolation.
It is inherent that poor communication is the main factor hindering innovation, effectiveness and decision making. Faced with the virtual team communication challenges, therefore, team managers should enhance communication to increase everyday interactions. This can be through creating smaller interdependent tasks and developing partnerships which can give virtual teams goals to achieve together. Or, use a video conferencing solution - ezTalks Cloud Meeting, to get all team members connected to each other through HD video and audio, no matter where they are.
The second challenges of virtual teams is that virtual working can be draining, as it is hard for team members to create working friendships. Team members do not see how their work and projects fit as a whole, so they often become demotivated and despondent.
Virtual team leaders should, therefore, strive to increase social interactions by engaging members in written communication, such as Instant Messaging. As well, regular communication on the progress of every member helps increase the overall team effort.
Virtual working often creates mistrust among team members, which is often one of the biggest challenges of managing virtual teams. Members rarely work at the same time, cannot see what others are doing and do not get immediate responses. Trust is, therefore, a big problem which can be averted by creating awareness of the contribution and achievements of every team member. Supportive team managers who set clear goals and expectations also help in building trust among team members.
Virtual teams often constitute people from different ethnic groups, with different cultures. As a result, the team members have conflicting customs, work habits, and values. Overcoming cultural diversity automatically becomes a challenge as everyone follows his or her way of working and leaders face the challenge of finding common grounds to manage team members. To minimize conflicts, the virtual teams should agree on some work ethics and team customs to foster cultural understanding.
A significant percentage of virtual team members have trouble keeping their spirits high. Unlike face to face teams that create cohesiveness, virtual teams feel more like some globally dispersed individuals who are working on the same project.
Although faced with challenges with virtual teams, virtual teams can be more cohesive, effective and engaging through shared leadership. The leaders should create a clear direction for the team members, making sure everyone is connected to a common goal and vision.
Lack of face to face interaction means cold relations among members, which pose great risks for the competence of the virtual team. While the members experience the inability to ask questions, there are difficulties with delegation. It is therefore advisable that team leaders pay attention to every member, to create a sense of commitment and ownership of the project.
This is an obvious challenge of working in virtual teams, as members reside in different locations. However, relying on collaboration tools to minimize the time overlap between members and reduce the number of virtual meetings is an effective strategy for addressing this challenge.
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