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Virtual Team — also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) — is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. They have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location. A virtual team does not always mean teleworker. Teleworkers are defined as individuals who work from home. Many virtual teams in today's organizations consist of employees both working at home and small groups in the office but in different geographic locations.
Why virtual teams?
- Best employees may be located anywhere in the world.
- Workers demand personal flexibility.
- Workers demand increasing technological sophistication.
- A flexible organization is more competitive and responsive to the marketplace.
- Workers tend to be more productive; i.e., they spend less time on commuting and travel
- The increasing globalization of trade and corporate activity.
- The global workday is 24 vs. 8 hours.
- The emergence of environments which require inter-organizational cooperation as well as competition.
- Changes in workers' expectations of organizational participation.
- A continued shift from production to service/knowledge work environments.
- Increasing horizontal organization structures characterized by structurally and geographically distributed human resources.
Basic types of virtual teams
- Networked Teams consist of individuals who collaborate to achieve a common goal or purpose; membership is frequently diffuse and fluid.
- Parallel Teams work in short term to develop recommendations for an improvement in a process or system; has a distinct membership.
- Project or Product-Development Teams conduct projects for users or customers for a defined period of time. Tasks are usually nonroutine, and the results are specific and measurable; team has decisionmaking authority.
- Work or Production Teams perform regular and ongoing work usually in one function; clearly defined membership.
- Service Teams support customers or the internal organization in typically a service/technical support role around the clock.
- Management Teams work collaboratively on a daily basis within a functional division of a corporation.
- Action Teams offer immediate responses activated in (typically) emergency situations.
Critical success factors of virtual teams
- The existence of availability standards.
- Ample resources to buy and support state-of-the-art reliable communication and collaboration tools for all team members.
- The existence of corporate memory systems such as lessons learned databases.
- The existence of written goals, objectives, project specifications, and performance metrics; results orientation.
- Managers and team members with a better-than-average ability to accurately estimate.
- A lower-than-normal ration of pushed to pulled information.
- Team communication is prioritized by the sender.
- Human resource policies, reward/recognition systems as well as career development systems address the unique needs of virtual workers.
- Good access to technical training and information on how to work across cultures.
- Training methods accommodate continual and just-in-time learning.
- There are standard and agreed-on technical and "soft" team processes.
- A "high trust" culture; teamwork and collaboration are the norm.
- Leaders set high performance expectations; model behaviors such as working across boundaries and using technology effectively.
- Team leaders and members exhibit competence in working in virtual environments.
- A list of links and articles on virtual teams and virtual team management (StartWright)
- Working in Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Geography? (Chris Kimble, University of York)
- Effective Virtual Teams through Communities of Practice (Chris Kimble, Barlow Alexis, and Feng Li)
- Virtual Teams (Robert Davison, ISWORLD)
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