Virtual Team Challenges

Key building blocks for virtual teams

A virtual or remote team, like every team, is a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks to achieve a common purpose.  Unlike a conventional team, a virtual or remote works across space, time and often cultural and organizational boundaries using interactive communications technologies.  Virtual and remote teams take many forms.  They include executive teams leading global companies, management teams leading business units or functions, sales and service teams, design and engineering teams, project teams, task forces, and action teams.  Some are part of a “permanent” organizational structure, and others are short term.

Over 20 years of researching and working with remote and virtual teams at Hewlett Packard, Agilent Technologies, and with other companies and clients, we have found that like all teams, the key building blocks of effective virtual and remote teams are:

  1. Goals: Having a clear shared focus of team purpose, vision, and objectives
  2. Roles: Mutually understanding of each team member expected contributions towards achievement of it’s goals
  3. Processes: Developing clear agreements of how the team will work together: meetings, planning process, problem solving process, decision making process
  4. Relationships & Values: Establishing links which bind individual team members together: communications, trust and openness, participation etc.
  5. Collaborations: Clearly defined relationships and commitments between the whole team and stakeholders in the team’s initiative such as partners, subordinates and customers

Critical success factors

Building on those basics, our research has shown that virtual and remote teams need to particularly pay close attention to the following factors:

  1. Leading with shared purpose, vision and goals
  2. Developing measurable accountabilities and deliverables
  3. Building and maintaining trust
  4. Communicating and providing access to information
  5. Providing timely feedback
  6. Creating a sense of  team and community
  7. Using travel effectively: “Travel for Trust”
  8. Making cultural diversity an advantage
  9. Orienting new team members
  10. Developing team norms and operating agreements
  11. Mastering collaboration technology