April 2013 – The Virtues of Virtual Teams (and the Problems)

The Virtues of Virtual Teams (and the Problems).

Sitting at your desk and leading a virtual team via Skype might sound easy, but as anyone who’s actually done it knows, it’s really not. At all. And it requires a very different style of leadership and management.

PriSim just conducted a 4-week online business competition between virtual teams from Master of Engineering Management programs at 5 leading U.S. universities (click here to read all about it). The teams never met live, but ran their team completely online, planning their strategies and tactics via webcasts, Skype, and by phone. However, our initial survey of the students in the competition indicates they thought their virtual teams were only about 70% as effective as physical teams.

Live meetings of geographically distributed teams can be expensive, difficult to schedule and set up, and disruptive to the lives of overstretched staff. However, using today’s high-tech tools, virtual teams can be run very successfully, as shown in a study by Dr. Lynda Gratton of the London Business School of 55 virtual teams with over 1,500 team members at companies such as BP, Nokia, and advertising company Ogilvy and Mather (see link).

Erin Meyer, director of INSEAD’s Managing Global Virtual Teams program for executives, describes four keys to success with virtual teams (see link):

  1. Take a leadership style that provides clear direction and goals and that removes any vagueness in how processes will be conducted.
  2. Define how decisions will be made so that cross-cultural differences don’t create logjams in decision-making.
  3. Reliability is the currency of “trust” in a virtual team. Specific results produced reliably within a highly defined process will establish trust when face-to-face meetings are few.
  4. Communicate as if you’re actually alive, not just a voice on Skype. Move around while you speak instead of just sitting like a statue.

As always, we welcome your ideas and comments.