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Managing virtual teams

Managing people who are located in different geographical areas and time zones is an uphill task. Managers who are effective in getting the work in conventional organizations also feel at loss in a virtual setup where most of the team members have not met each other and yet they need to work as a unit. A virtual team with members from different time zones makes it difficult to organize a meeting and hold discussions at inappropriate times for some individuals. Cultural and social issues are yet other issues that face managers of virtual teams.

The way words and sentences are used in communicating messages from one individual to another might have different interpretations in different cultural settings that gives rise to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of situations. Language barriers pose limitations in communicating and interpreting messages. English is widely used by people across the globe but the level of understanding may not be the same for all. Some people in the team prefer to remain quiet during meetings due to their inability to express their ideas and opinions in the language. A research project carried out by Professor Dominic M.

Thomas concludes that there are essentially five triggers or indicators that managers of

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virtual teams should look out for while devising ways to improve team interaction and performance. The five triggers include external interferences or external conditions such as time zones, organizational policies of involved members; internal interference such as team size, team demographics; information and communication technology limitations that include inadequate bandwidth or connectivity issues or software problems; trust and transparency between team members; and technical knowledge of team members (Knowledge @ Emory, 2007).

“Managing a virtual team is considered to be one of the toughest tasks in today’s organizations and many of these teams are seen to fail” (Communicaid, 2007). The subsequent sections provide an insight into how these challenges are being met by managers and what type of strategies can be adopted to resolve the issues facing the management of virtual teams. Literature Review – Managing virtual teams The literature review section aims to generate a deeper understanding of virtual teams and various strategies and tools available to ensure effective management of these globally dispersed teams.

Virtual teams have been defined as “a group of people, working together for a particular purpose, who are based in different locations, and who mainly communicate electronically rather than face-to-face” (Parrish, 2003). This kind of work setup is based on deriving the competitive advantage in utilizing specialized knowledge in specific areas. The process of getting the work done in such setups is largely dependent on the use of technology and innovative team management strategies for achieving task objectives and desired level of performance.

Research work carried out on effective ways and means of managing virtual teams focus on the nature of challenges and practical problems faced by managers in deriving expected performance levels from the team. Parrish (2003) an international management consultant and trainer feels that leading and managing virtual teams is quite different from managing teams in a conventional office environment since there are many complexities attached to the team dynamics. However, the same management principles apply in most cases.

“Key findings from both research and best practices across many industries reveal that effective distance leadership includes the typical fundamentals for leading people and managing resources in a traditional office environment” (Thompsen, 2000). The key leadership qualities in both circumstances include effective communication skills, building trust and confidence among team members, establishing clear cut goals and objectives that defines the expectation levels, identifies the resources and provides access to the resources required to complete the task, and defining parameters for evaluation of performance.

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