Building an Effective Virtual Team

September 5, 2012, by Lisa Avvocato in Collaboration

With the increase of BYOD, unified communications and video conferencing technologies, many more employees are choosing to work from home to accommodate their schedule or expand their job possibilities. Similarly, organizations are allowing more employees the flexibility to work from home to attract and retain top employees across the country. Unified communications tools have allowed organizations to expand their talent pool to the best and brightest around the world; rather than their city.

However, the prevalence of remote work teams has led to new challenges for managers who are now tasked with leading these virtual teams. While some remote teams provide stellar results; many fail to reach their full potential and some fail to even complete their assigned tasks. This leaves many managers asking the question, what makes the difference between success and failure? How can managers enhance the probability of a successful virtual work team?

In a MIT Sloan Management Review article, How to Manage Virtual Teams, Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst assert that there a few key aspects for managers to focus on when building a virtual team. By carefully selecting team members and developing a global culture, managers can enhance the likelihood of success.

For example, when selecting remote team members, it is important to not only consider abilities and expertise but social skills as well. In order for virtual teams to be successful “members must first and foremost be able to establish a basis for the effective exchange of their varying capabilities” the authors state. Selecting employees who demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to work together with others is critical for success. Self-important or headstrong individuals can have the opposite effect on a virtual team.

In addition to social skills, team members must have self-leadership skills. Essentially, team members need to be more “self-sufficient in how they manage their own work because the team leader is less in a position to help.” Therefore, managers need to look for independent and motivated individuals who constantly push boundaries and look for new tasks to complete. Individuals who sit around and wait for someone to tell them what to do will have a difficult time succeeding in a virtual team environment.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of informal interactions and face-to-face communication. Informal interactions, such as happy hour, help develop relationships.  In addition to developing a sense of trust, team members get to know each other on a personal level. Since a traditional happy hour is likely out of the question; managers can put together a virtual social event, such as a virtual happy hour over video. Team members can bring their own glass of wine or beer and informally chat with one another. While it won’t be the exact same as a traditional happy hour, it can still help build camaraderie and team spirit.

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