Essay: Virtual Teams


Virtual groups and virtual projects face some major barriers that require some best practices to achieve successful. Extant research has shown virtual group team members, virtual group team managers, and the organizations that support them to be critical to virtual group success. All must work in unison with proper communication, guidance, resources, and plans. There also has to be consideration for the aspects of the medium, or environment, team members work within and the risks associated with a successful virtual project.

To begin with, virtual groups have intrinsic barriers such as time, distance, and cultural diversity. This leads to possible breakdowns in communication, poor decision-making, and lack of accountability, and overall logistical risk factors that can lead to project failures. These groups have to overcome barriers to work together, in a way that may be unusual and unfamiliar. Furthermore, the groups have to produce successful results in ever-increasing issues involving technology, time, and complexity. Within these groups, the dynamics of the individuals may create barriers as well.

The research on virtual groups has shown indications that, based on a lack of interpersonal and face-to-face interactions, the communication, trust, and collective work ethic may suffer leading to failures. Furthermore, designing plans for virtual groups that includes matching like-minded and similarly skilled team members that have the benefit of some face-to-face meetings to create solidarity can overcome some of the cultural, philosophical, and communicative issues in virtual groups.

Organizations have to support managers in order to overcome barriers. Proper planning, resources, time, and support can provide a manager with requisite skills and strategies to create team structure, accountability, and expectations. Furthermore, managers can assure success by staying apprised of risks that can threaten a team or project’s viability.

Virtual Team Concepts in Projects: A Case Study

This case study, focusing on the development of a virtual team of existing members of the New South Wales Police Force, focuses on the importance of supportive systems of teams, detailed project planning, and consistent monitoring and management. It has been established through scholarly literature that there are drawbacks of virtual teams to include communication barriers, disparate cultural and philosophical outlooks, lack of intimate working relationships, low virtual teaming acumen, and lack of meaningful interactions with a manager. Within this case study, it is the familiarity between the team members based on experiences, the careful planning and integration of pre-determined standards of execution, as well as the ongoing and meticulous management of time and resources that enables success.

This 3-year case study emphasizes the use of pre-established, proven organizational systems of support, along with ongoing evaluation and analysis of these systems to facilitate success. The careful planning of the launching of these teams is inherently important as this addresses the logistical, strategic operations and working relationships required of a successful virtual team. The ongoing monitoring and attention to team members’ needs and the overall teams’ functionality is required to fulfill the successful goals of the organization.

To fully realize the virtual teams’ benefits of cost savings, flexibility, and diversity; all the important aspects of communication and leadership have to be mastered. With the advancement of communication technology, as well as leaders’ adaptability to motivate remote team members, these virtual teams can increasingly produce successful results for a multitude of projects. This case study points out the very important ingredients for successful teams. The familiarity and suitability of members with one another along with the skills required of the project are the first set of criteria. Then it is a matter of a highly communicative and prepared leader to utilize an organization’s resources for time, resource, and quality control management.

Global virtual teams for value creation and project success: A case study

Lee-Kelley and Sankey’s (2007) qualitative case study of two virtual teams examines the theoretical basis on team structure, measured successes, and communication. This theoretical foundation addresses the modes and methods of communication, time constraints, face-to-face interactions, leadership styles, cultural diversity, conflict management, trust, successful outcomes, and cost control as barriers to overcome. Within this case study, it is the 11 telephone interviews of project managers, which illuminate aspects of the teams, their success, and learning outcomes.

This case study found that participants in a virtual team have increased moral but had lower levels of commitment and acceptance. Team members exhibited acceptance towards the role stability, minor project changes, bonding, and commitment. Primarily based on cultural differences, team members still preferred face-to-face meetings promoting relationship building and cohesion. The successful team displayed smoother process and more consistent communication and feedback. The lack of transparent communication muddled the processes of the team in the less successful team. The success was based on cultural differences in team processes.

This case study points out barriers to success such as managerial decisions, job requirements, asymmetry, unclear roles and responsibilities, time-zones, over communication, dissonance, cultural differences, trust, and training. Conversely, the distance between team members is minimized and the savings on travel and time for team members has shown to be positive outcomes. This still leaves the areas of time zones, management, operation, and leader to employee communication as those issues that need to be addressed. The conclusion of this case study is that virtual teams are most successful when team members are carefully selected, there are tailored personal development programs, and enhanced communications.

Conceptualizing and measuring the virtuality of teams

This study seeks to specify the meaning of a virtual team, and the impact of a team’s degree of virtuality on its effectiveness. This study builds the construct of a virtual team consisting of team members not sharing common workspace and requiring electronic or computer based technology to communicate. From this, a continuum scale was created to represent the degree to which a team represents virtuality defined by the time the team worked virtually, the amount of the team members that worked virtually, and the overall distance between team members. This degree of virtuality was analyzed to predict team effectiveness.

Working virtually was calculated on an interval continuum from zero to 100 percent; represented by face-to-face meetings all of the time, to never meeting for work. Team member virtuality was operationalized as a continuum from 0, or working in the same location all of the time, to working at different locations 100 percent of the time. Degree of separation was classified as the overall amount of distance, time, and money allocated to a hypothetical face-to-face meeting. The dependent variable of team effectiveness was constructed to include performance on completed tasks, team members’ perceptions of the positive impact of working in a virtual team, the desire of team members to work together again, and the amount of professional development in skills, goals, challenges, and knowledge.

The results of this convenience based sample of 25 virtual team managers and 108 team members of a private firm in Canada was shown to have a highly significant, negatively correlated relationship between the three independent variables of virtuality and performance and satisfaction. However, the specific analysis of the teams analyzed in the study indicated moderate effectiveness overall and varying degrees of virtuality. This study points out the benefits of having qualified, unified, and diligent team members working within a finite set of goals and expectations as keys to maintaining successful virtual teams.

Project Duration and Risk Factors on Virtual Projects

The current study analyzes the impact of virtual project duration and six major risk factors on overall success of virtual projects. The study specifically looks at risk effect, or the rate a risk factor has on the outcome of a virtual project. Included in this analysis is the variable of project duration and its impact on project outcomes. This duration variable was combined with overarching risk factors including team, organizational environment, requirements, planning and control, user and complexity risks. The implications of the findings support the need for close monitoring and advisement by managers leading virtual teams.

The 557 survey respondents’ responses in this study, consisting of individuals of some significance in the completion of a virtual project, indicated a significant relationship between risk effect and project completion. More importantly, the six specific risk factors included in the study increased in significance as the duration of the virtual projects increased. They are budget, scope, schedule risk increases, complex components, lack of skilled resources, and poor decision making. As it turns out, unexpected or unanticipated project extensions also significantly correlate to project success. The risk factors include budget, scope and schedule risk increases.

The essence of this research points towards the real necessity of proper project management on virtual projects. Not only do longer lasting projects increase risks for failure, but those that slowly extend, gradually and unexpectedly over time pose increased risks as well. Two points of emphasis can be learnt in virtual project management based on this study. Managers need to remain vigilant and responsive to the ever-changing dynamics of the virtual project, and they need to redefine how they assess old and future threats to virtual project success. Implications of this research can extend to possible mitigation strategies to include breaking up projects into smaller parts and assessing the complexities, size and individual risk factors so that a better understanding of virtual project management can be attained.

Virtual Team Effectiveness and Sequence of Conditions

This experimental study of four randomly assigned groups examined the impact of Group Task Pressure (GTP) and communication medium on group effectiveness. Drawing from theoretical foundations on communication and expression of non-verbal, emotional cues through particular mediums ranging from face to face to computer based; the influence of time, pressure and technology on performance is evaluated. By measuring performance based on the total amount of time a group completed their tasks, this pilot study tested the impact of changing communication mediums with increased pressures of time, reward and task complexity.

The initial hypothesis of improved performance based on communication medium that started low and progressed to higher levels was supported. The implications for this comes from theory that supports group adaptability from relatively simple medium constructs to higher ones based on the less amount of time it takes a group to adapt to the lower levels of technological parameters in their environment. Once this stipulation is met, then the group increases its efficiency in adapting to more complex technological mediums in the midst of time and pressure. This can be applied to a homeland security emergency virtual team’s initial response to issues. When the complexity of issues increases, the level of adaptability can increase success.

The second hypothesis concentrating on GTP sequencing from low to high levels of pressure was not supported. Having groups start with low end pressure variables on completion of tasks did not facilitate performance in more complex situations. Past research has been mixed on GTP sequencing, as some research points out that the experience a group gains in completing tasks of low in complexity, time constraints and reward potential will increase their performance with more complex tasks higher in complexity, time and reward potential. Yet other research concludes the high levels of GTP limits decision making and extemporaneous thoughts, thus limiting a virtual group’s success level in handling complex tasks in emergency situations.