This is the first in a series of articles discussing the creation, development, and care of effective dispersed or virtual teams.  David spent 18 years working in these types of teams, from Individual contributor to director of a team of field based engineers and support staff.  These articles are based upon his successful experiences both leading and participating in virtual teams.

Virtual or dispersed teams are groups of individuals that work across time zones, organizational boundaries, cultural differences, from varied locations, under differing conditions and interact primarily electronically. Virtual teams may be very common today, but effective virtual teams are not so common. While there are many reasons to create virtual teams, most organizations say the primary reasons they use virtual teams is to encourage collaboration in a global environment, minimize travel expenses and to “improve productivity”.  While there is no doubt that travel expenses can be impacted by using virtual teams, effective collaboration and improved productivity are not a given.

There are some areas where virtual teams are repeatedly effective and productive, especially when tasked to “develop and establish goals” for team projects or initiatives and when “brainstorming solutions” that address perceived issues within an organization. When given these tasks, virtual teams are judged by their companies and the team members to hit their targets between 70 and 85% of the time.  It should be noted that these assignments are “idea and task generation” objectives, not “implement and sustain” objectives.  There are a wide range of survey values to be found on the internet regarding the overall effectiveness of virtual teams with many falling well below 50%.

While technology has made it easier to orchestrate and manage dispersed teams, companies still tend to treat virtual teams the same way they treat every other team and rely on traditional best practices to manage these teams.  What could possibly go wrong?

While there are a number of issues that need to be addressed when discussing effective virtual teams, most of these teams seem to struggle with these HI-5 issues.

The Virtual Team HI-5

  1. Selecting the wrong people for the team
  2. Absence of clearly defined roles and expectations
  3. Poor cooperation and trust among team members
  4. Lack of recognition and engagement – “Checking Out”
  5. Communication, communication, and, oh yes, communication

The presence of any of these issues will significantly impact the effectiveness of virtual teams.  We’ll be discussing these pitfalls and additional solid best practices for virtual teams, leaders, and individuals in upcoming articles.