Virtual teams, sometimes referred to as geographically dispersed teams, are groups of individuals working together separated by distance, time, and organizational boundaries. The emergence of virtual teams was made possible by the advance of communication technologies. Nowadays people belonging to different time zones, locations, and organizational structures can effectively cooperate on a joint task by using modern communication networks. There are several major differences in the functioning of virtual teams and face-to-face teams.
The major strength of a virtual team is that it ‘expands the opportunities to leverage expertise from wherever it resides to develop products and services that have competitive advantage’ (Duarte & Snyder, 2006, p. 6). However, there are some weaknesses associated with such organizational model. One of the major concerns of business analysts and human resources managers is whether ‘social capital [can] be built over communications technologies rather than through face-to-face interaction’ (Gibson & Cohen, 2003, p.
10). Indeed, communication problem are often undermining the effectiveness of a virtual team, especially if it operates in a multicultural environment. It is hard to build effective organizational culture in a company that relies heavily on virtual teams since ‘the opportunity to meet face-to-face and collaborate informally is critical for the sense-making process’ (Gibson & Cohen, 2003, p. 18). Therefore, the Aberdeen model would be hard to implement in an organization based on the interaction of virtual teams.
Generally, simple things like establishing self-directing work teams, eliminating supervisors and foremen, and encouraging employees to assume and exercise responsibility are more than relevant for any virtual team. However, the difference is to be found in the underlying principles the Aberdeen model is based upon, namely participative management, trust of production workers, and respect for the individual. The process of building trust appears problematic with regard to virtual teams:
‘Collective trust is challenged by the often prominent differences in culture and lack of face-to-face interaction in virtual teams’ (Gibson & Cohen, 2003, p. 59). Additionally, when a virtual team is formed, the main criterion for the selection of group members is their competence and expertise. At Aberdeen facility, the hiring process initially was based on the consideration of personal and interpersonal skills and attitudes. Consequently, virtually all Aberdeen employees were prepared to balance their group v.
individual behavior in a responsible manner. Additionally, the Aberdeen model is heavily based on feedback and mutual assessment. Since teams were responsible for the evaluation of team members’ performance, recommended salary increases, and generated reports, the issue of feedback is of crucial importance. In a virtual team, the process of giving and receiving feedback is complicated by the lack of direct interaction: ‘Seeking feedback presents another special communication challenge to virtual team members.
In face-to-face meetings, members receive feedback from shared information, facial expressions, body language, and many other subtle signals’ (Gibson & Cohen, 2003, p. 97). This is especially important in the light of team leaders’ selection. Since each team is to choose the most responsible and competent person to lead the team, ineffective feedback can lead to unpredicted and undesired results. Therefore, the Aberdeen model would be hard to implement in an organization that rely heavily on virtual teams for the reasons of communication effectiveness, trust building, and feedback giving.
Gibson, Cristina B. , and Susan G. Cohen (Eds. ) (2003). Virtual Teams That Work: Creating Conditions for Virtual Team Effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Duarte, Deborah L. , and Nancy T. Snyder. (2006). Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques That Succeed, 3rd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. N/a. ‘Individuals in Organizations. ’ Retrieved June 16, 2007, from http://www. solutionlibrary. com/business/management/42376