How to Manage Virtual Teams

28 Jun 2010 Sandeep Mehta

MIT Sloan Review had an interesting article on How to Manage Virtual Teams. As we have discussed in the past, the need for effectively managing cross-cultural cross-organizational virtual teams will only increase with time.

The article measures virtuality in terms of  “dispersion” of teams and finds that even small distances (different floors of the same building) have a significant impact on team cohesion.  R&D managers probably need to understand that processes and tools needed for managing virtual teams may actually benefit teams that are traditionally considered collocated.

The article is a very good read.  However, here are the key findings:

* The overall effect of dispersion (people working at different sites) is not necessarily detrimental but rather depends on a team’s task-related processes, including those that help coordinate work and ensure that each member is contributing fully. 

* Even small levels of dispersion can substantially affect team performance. 

* When assembling a virtual team, managers should carefully consider the social skills and self-sufficiency of the potential members.

I guess the main takeaway is very encouraging – virtual teams can be as effective (or probably even more effective) than collocated teams as long as tools exist to provide effective communication.  The key challenge is for R&D managers is to avoid communication through large documents: they are filled with discipline-specific jargon and no one has time to either develop thorough documentation or to read someone else’s large document.  More importantly, documents fail to capture rationale followed by one team member to reach decisions that impact other team members.  Interesting challenge…  DPSTBNMT3VHA

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