What is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team, also known as a geographically dispersed team or a remote team, is a group of people who interact through electronic communications. Members of a virtual team are usually located in different geographical regions. Since communication is not in-person, trust and good communication are crucial to the success of a virtual team.
Example of a Virtual Team
Company A, a plane manufacturer, is facing heavy pressure from competitors. To address the issue, Company A connects experts from the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe to collaborate together and create a new innovative plane design.
The Different Types of Virtual Teams
There are several types of virtual teams depending on the lifespan, objective, goals, and roles of members.
1. Networked Teams
Networked teams are composed of cross-functional members brought together to share their expertise and knowledge on a specific issue. Membership is fluid in that new members are added whenever necessary, while existing members are removed when their role is complete.
2. Parallel Teams
Parallel teams are generally formed by members of the same organization to develop recommendations in a process or system. Parallel teams are usually formed for a short period of time and membership is constant in that members of a parallel team remain intact until the goal is realized.
3. Product Development Teams
Product development teams are composed of experts from different parts of the world to perform a specifically outlined task such as the development of a new product, information system, or organizational process. For example, bringing in a team of experts from the United States, Canada, and Hong Kong for a period of one year to develop a new engine.
4. Production Teams
Production teams are formed from members of one role coming together to perform regular and ongoing work. Members of a production team are given clearly defined roles and work independently. The individual outputs of each member are combined together to produce the end result.
5. Service Teams
Service teams are formed by members from different time zones. Each member does work independently but the work produced by each member is a continuation of the previous member. For example, customer support teams in Canada finish their shift while support teams in Asia start their shift and continue the work.
6. Management Teams
Management teams are formed by managers of the same organization who work in different geographical regions. Members of management teams largely discuss corporate-level strategies.
7. Action Teams
Action teams are formed for a very short duration of time to respond to immediate problems. Upon resolving the problem, the team is adjourned.
Advantages of Virtual Teams
There are several advantages of a virtual team such as:
- Lower office costs: Members are able to work at home or at a remote location where they do not need to utilize company office space.
- Flexibility: Members are able to achieve better personal flexibility.
- Increased productivity: Members of a virtual team tend to be more productive, as there is less time wasted on commuting and traveling.
- A 24-hour workday: Companies can operate on a 24-hour schedule by having shifts in different countries (different time zones).
- Greater availability of talent: Members can be hired anywhere, thus eliminating the restriction of having to rely solely on the local talent pool.
Disadvantages of Virtual Teams
There are several disadvantages of a virtual team such as:
- Technological issues: Virtual teams are reliant on the internet and computer for completing work. Therefore, technological issues may cause difficulties and put work on hold until the technological issue is resolved.
- Communication issues: Non-verbal communication can be easily misjudged and can lead to a lack of trust and common knowledge sharing.
- Poor team bonding: A typical virtual team involves members connecting with each other for a specific issue or problem and the disbandment of the team once the issue or problem is resolved. Virtual teams lack time to get to know each other and bond. This may lead to miscommunication and a lack of effective collaboration.
- Management problems: Virtual teams can be hard to manage if the members are not great communicators and lack leadership skills. For example, a member may resort to silence instead of speaking out about a poorly performing team member. This would hurt team cohesion and create hostility among the team members.
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