Executive summary 

Business organizations are increasing their utilization of virtual teams to enhance competitive advantages in the global market. Organizations are using virtual teamwork to bridge geographic distances. The use of virtual work arrangements has spurred interest in understanding how they are developed and how members collaborate towards the common goals. Further, many companies are trying to determine the factors that define the success of virtual teams. With improvements in communication technologies and changes in global economy, executives are reconsidering traditional practices. The rise of technology and globalization is reshaping the business environments.

The reality of virtual team work has continued to take roots in different organizations. It is now commonplace for employees to work from different geographical sites with shared responsibilities for the outcomes. In essence, there is a number of organizational practices that are necessary in developing a virtual team. In addition, the lifecycle of the virtual teams has three predictable stages. Each of these stages has its own set of characteristics.

This report presents the recommendations that will ensure a smooth transition of the virtual teams from one stage to another. These include creating an effective communication flow, building and maintaining collaborative teams, and changing the styles of leadership. In addition, technology is an actionable strategy particularly essential in promoting the successful implementation of these recommendations. Technological communications such as video conferencing and synchronous communication have added a personal touch to managing virtual employees. These forms of technology are essential in building and supporting collaborative team work.

An Overview of Organizational Best Practices for Virtual Team Development 

Making investment to create organizational-based social relationships

Compared to the traditional teams, the virtual teams have limited day-to-day social interactions. Team members facilitate social relationships by establishing norms that are acceptable communication patterns. The human resource department and team leaders develop a way for team members to get to know one another such as posting pictures and bibliographies on a team’s website.

Creating a model that enhances collaborative behavior

Building and maintaining collaborations include bringing people together. The team leaders invest time and energy to build successful collaborative teamwork. Furthermore, they ensure that the purpose of developing the virtual teams is clear. At the same time, the team members are committed to partnership. Eventually, the members are involved in sharing cultural values such as trust and openness that boost the development of the teamwork. Some teams are located in close geography, therefore face-to-face meetings are held without incurring huge travelling expenses. Increased meeting frequency among the team members is beneficial in sharing ideas and participating in joint decision making. 

Effective coaching promoting a culture of collaboration

The managers ensure there is continual learning, especially for the newcomers. In addition, discussion meetings are regularly held to foster participation of all members on the importance of establishing a collaborative relationship. Additionally, the initial goals are explained comprehensively too all newcomers in all levels.

Ensuring the requisite skills

The human resource department promotes collaborative teams by training employees in the specific values required for the collaboration process. These include the need to appreciate the views of other team mates, active engagement in constructive discussions, and creation of programs that will help in resolving conflicts.  Additionally, conflicts and misunderstandings are solved outside the conference meetings, and the team leaders conduct a private follow with individuals afterwards. 

Supporting a sense of belonging

The HR department creates a sense of belonging among the employees. These are efforts that extend to sponsoring unofficial come-together meetings like cooking weekends. Encouraging employees with surprising incentives goes a long way in promoting collaborations.  The team leaders assemble their virtual teams for an initial face-to-face meeting. They also ensure that they are personally interacting with the team at least once per year.

Building heritage relationships

 Team leaders play a big role in building collaborative teams by ensuring that a significant number of team members knows each other.  For example, instead of reshuffling individuals to new positions, the entire operational team is moved. These practices are essential in maintaining the existing trust among the team members.

Assigning team leaders that are both task- and relationship-oriented

Further, it is important that the team leaders change their leadership styles as their teams continue to expand. When the project commences, the leader focuses on the mission and the vision of the team. The goals are categorized into smaller short-term objectives. However, because conflicts are inevitable, when they start emerging, the leader focuses on building and strengthening the bond between the employees in order to achieve the stipulated goals.

Explaining the roles clearly

It is essential to have team members that collaborate with each other although they have distinct roles. Team leaders create structures and standards to manage the team remotely. Although it is a collaborative team, the roles and responsibilities of each member remain clear. These are efforts that will prevent them from spending time negotiating for responsibilities.

 

A Description and Overview of the Predictable Stages of Virtual Team Development 

In order to understand the nature of virtual teams, their development can be separated into three predictable stages, each having certain characteristics. They include stage 1 (set up), stage 2 (follow-through), and stage 3 (refresh).

Stage 1 - set up: the importance of planning for virtual teams. Developing virtual teams can be challenging if it is not well prepared.  It is impossible to predict all the possible difficulties; good planning is crucial to set the stage to foster maximum concentration on the required activities and avoid risks. The set up stage begins with defining and communicating the purpose of the team. Most importantly, without a shared purpose, the members may focus on small unimportant tasks at the expense of common efforts to reach the goals of organization. 

Virtual teams turn their purposes into doable actions.  In the emphasis, the purpose is a system of interrelated ideas that build upon each other; these are: vision, mission, goals, tasks, and results. This step up should be followed carefully, because early missteps when setting a virtual team may result in “unintended and undesired” consequences such as lack of trust and poor communication among members. As a result, the deliverables of the firm can be affected negatively.  The virtual team leader has the responsibility to lead the way for new teams. 

Stage 2 -  follow- through: the importance of implementation and performance. This is the stage in which the leaders ensure that the teams adhere to the norms created in the set up phase. Leaders should watch that the teams follow the agreed-upon procedures. They must make sure that a straightforward mechanism exists to compensate for the absence of physical interaction and that mutual communication is provided. Keeping team members accountable needs an effective follow-through in such spheres as performance management cycles, conflict resolution techniques, and bridging cultural differences. Stage 2 is the core phase of virtual team performance. It reveals how the teams are driving towards achieving the goals. 

Stage 3 - refresh: the importance of realignment. Changes occur during the lifespan of virtual teams because the initial goals may be revised to comply with the dynamism of the organization. Additionally, it is natural that members continually join or leave the team work. Therefore, the leaders need to promote the cohesiveness of the team while at the same time making the necessary updates. Managers should also use appropriate tools and methods to ensure that “a long-standing team renews this dedication”. Besides, virtual teams are flexible since the membership is not static. As a result, their makeup tends to change frequently. In this connection, when unpredicted changes arise, it is important to handle the transition smoothly.

Recommendations for Moving through Each Stage 

  1. Communication

Members working from different locations and departments must learn to identify the environmental influences and formulate responsive mechanisms. The rules of the road should be established using an information sharing processes. The virtual team needs an agreed-upon plan for managing the communication flow. Creating strong lanes of communication will develop a culture of sharing information that is necessary to drive the team to its destination.

  1. Building and maintaining collaborative teams

 A common understanding is also essential in clarifying the team work in terms of goals and responsibilities. Team members should discuss the disparities between communication strategies used in virtual arrangements and traditional set ups. The executives, the human resource department and team leaders have joint roles to play in building collaborative teams. Collaborative efforts will make it easier to identify the risks that the projects can face, predict the consequences, and mitigate the risks. When teams are collaborating effectively, it becomes easier to do the tune-ups, and the leader is able to analyze the performance of the team mates. If there is a need, those who perform poorly can be replaced, and their roles can be reassigned to other members. In addition, the team leader has the responsibility to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings in order to build strong relationships within the team. Collaboration aims at adding values to the activities of the team. It means working together to achieve a culture of teamwork, trust, and goodwill.

  1. Changing leadership styles

Virtual team requires fostering new managerial approaches. Executive leadership must recognize the environments in which the teams are working. This means that there must be solid communication practices. These practices will help the leaders in identifying the areas of improvement, assigning new roles, and training. If new tools are created, all members should be trained in the appropriate areas of their responsibilities. In their efforts to keep the teams on target, the team managers should facilitate commitment and accountability among their team mates. Additionally, resources should be allocated to align with the current norms and expectations in the virtual approach. Successful virtual teams require members with appropriate skills and behaviors. 

Actionable Strategies for the Recommendations

In the future, virtual teams will form a higher percentage of the organizational activities. The use of technological advances will ensure a smooth transition through the stages of team development. The specific technologies that allow the success of a virtual team vary in capabilities.  Technologies will help the team to support collaborative work. When implemented effectively, technology is a tool that will facilitate decision making through information sharing processes. The executives should invest in acquiring software and hardware that are necessary to facilitate communication process and synchronous flow of information such as groupware, instant messaging systems etc. These are valuable tools when organizations need to bring together specialized groups of people to work on projects. 

An Analysis of the Technologies that Will Best Support the Strategies 

Determining which communication technology to use in a virtual team arrangement is a vital part of the overall success. Therefore, the team managers should select technologies that best fit the needs of the teams. The deployment of the technologies discussed below can be used based on the demands of the virtual teams.

Audio conferencing will enable a meeting to be held between individuals using a telephone conferencing system. The conference may be facilitated by a telecommunications company connecting telephone lines or a group of conferencing speakers. Alternatively, a microphone system may link two groups together in a direct call from one telephone to another or via Internet phone systems. In this case, there will be an effective communication flow, in which the team members can be involved in sharing information and making decisions.

Synchronous communication is a technology that allows real-time responses and interaction. It is a two-way conversation where participants’ converse with each other as the meeting unfolds. Text based examples include text messages, instant messages, and chat application. The use of these media is important in maintaining collaborating efforts. Team members can share ideas on a real-time basis. In addition, they can forward their queries to their leaders who will respond instantly. Team mates can also use the forms of synchronous communication even in unofficial duties. This will improve the social interaction and cohesiveness between them.

Groupware is proprietary software that facilitates group communication via internal or external networks. The applications include e-mails, teleconferencing, and collaboration capabilities. It supports the group processes for the teams and organizations as they work together. In addition, a computer can be used as the connection medium to facilitate computer conferences. Usually, it is connected via a proprietary network or a Virtual Private Network rather than the Internet. These applications can provide a shift from traditional style of leadership to technologically-based one. Leaders and their teams can engage each other towards achieving the common goals.

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