Can a Virtual Team be High Performing?

Individuals do not often work in isolation. Work is essentially a group-based activity, and if an organisation is to be effective, it needs effective team working at all levels.  Indeed, team working has become an increasingly common feature of organisational life as management seeks to introduce flatter organisational structures in response to changes in technology in an increasingly complex marketplace.

When working effectively, a team can provide real benefits for both individuals and organisations, but you should also be aware of the pitfalls of team working. If you simply call a group of people who work together, a team, you will not magically harness the real benefits of team working.

It is important to be clear on our definition of a team. There has been a preoccupation by work psychologists to debate the differences between teams and groups. Simply stated, a team is a particular type of group.  A team can be defined as two or more people who come together in a group to achieve a common goal or objective, which is not achievable on an individual basis.

Team working as a method of organising people at work, has potential benefits at an individual level, in terms of satisfying various psychological needs and an organisational level, in terms of performing functions to achieve organisational objectives.

In recent years,  there has been a move towards virtual teams, where a group of employees from different geographic locations use communication technology to collaborate. Due to the recent pandemic, the use of virtual teams has increased enormously.

Effective and Ineffective Teams

What makes a virtual team effective? Well, besides competence in the use and application of communication technology, it is the same as for any team. When it gets the job done, it was set up to do. However, things are always more complex than that.

Work psychologists have devised numerous frameworks to help managers discover what makes an effective team. There are many theories about which competencies are possessed by high-performing teams. Nevertheless, most theorists agree the following seven competencies are the most important.

1.       The team focuses on open and effective communication methods.

2.       The team has clear, measurable goals that are accepted by all members.

3.       The team has proven decision-making strategies, team members influence decisions, and there is an emphasis on consensus methods.

4.       The team holds each other mutually accountable for results.

5.       The team has a process for managing conflicts but also appreciates the positive aspects of conflict (e.g., avoids groupthink).

6.       Team members collaborate to accomplish their goals.

7.       Team members are willing to take risks to bring new, innovative ideas that will assist the team in achieving the desired results.

With virtual teams, we can add the skills needed for the effective use of communication technology (e.g., Click Meeting, MS Teams, Zoom or VOIP Skills) and good communication infrastructure (e.g., fast internet). There are also skills needed by the leaders of virtual teams that are like those needed for cross-functional leadership. This includes Cultural Intelligence (CI), Emotional Intelligence (EI), Management & Leadership competencies, and specialist communication skills.

One thing is sure, the use of virtual teams will continue to increase, and all Managers and Leaders need to be skilled in this new way of working.

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