Criteria for Success: Characteristics of Top Virtual Leaders and Team Members

The most effective virtual team leaders balance both the execution-oriented practices and the interpersonal, communication, and cultural factors that define virtual teams. Therefore, organizations should select leaders who possess those key characteristics. When assigning a leader, take the time to select the individual with the appropriate skills—and not just go with the first person to volunteer or someone who already happens to lead a team or the person with the best technical skills.  In addition, periodically assess the leaders’ effectiveness and provide targeted feedback about how they can enhance their performance. Great leaders will be happy to learn what they can do to keep improving. 
 
Leaders should also ensure that their virtual team members have the skills necessary to effectively collaborate from a distance. People who are motivated and are able to work in a self-directed manner, have a tolerance for ambiguity, are strong communicators, and are collaborative will be more effective on virtual teams. According to OnPoint’s research, the most important characteristics for virtual team members include strong interpersonal skills, initiative, and flexibility.
 
A recent BusinessWeek article (BusinessWeek June 2009) presented findings on what personality traits make for good virtual workers. While one might assume that introverted people would be more likely to thrive in a virtual setting, the study found that it was actually extroverts who fared best. It was discovered that extroverted employees were more adept at finding ways to stay connected to others, no matter their location. The study also showed that being structured and organized is essential for successfully working virtually, and that disorganized employees were less successful.
 
Organizations generally need to make sure team members have the appropriate skills for tackling particular tasks. Laszlo Bock of Google says, “It is important to compose the team differently based on the problem the team needs to solve or address.” For example, the people chosen to help solve a detailed financial problem would most likely not be selected for a virtual team that’s created to tackle a customer satisfaction issue.
 
However, in some situations organizations benefit from the use of cross-functional teams, in which they bring together people with different areas of expertise to address a problem. Bottom line: It is important to consider the scope of the problem to determine the criteria for virtual team membership.
 
You can start by establishing criteria for selecting team members. For example, a global IT virtual team in our study outlined the skill set necessary for success and then selected team members accordingly. While technical expertise in various IT areas was deemed important, the leader wanted to involve people who would work well autonomously yet who could also successfully collaborate with the rest of the team when needed.
 
Understanding the characteristics necessary for succeeding in a virtual environment is very important. While these characteristics may vary depending on a virtual team’s goals, the following checklist can be used to help select virtual team members and leaders.
 
A Good Virtual Team Leader

  • Delegates work and responsibilities effectively; trusts others to achieve goals Implements processes to effectively monitor work (e.g., checks in without micromanaging, has strong project management skills)
  • Effectively manages conflict
  • Is comfortable working in an unstructured environment
  • Demonstrates strong communication and management skills (e.g., provides clear direction and is responsive)
  • Inspires people to achieve results
  • Effectively recognizes and rewards others
  • Provides coaching and feedback to others; supports others
  • Appropriately consults and engages others when making decisions
  • Holds others accountable for meeting commitments

 A Good Virtual Team Member

  • Demonstrates a high level of motivation
  • Effectively communicates with others (e.g., reaches out to others for help and proactively shares information with others)
  • Effectively collaborates with others
  • Is comfortable working in an unstructured environment
  • Is able to operate autonomously to achieve goals/objectives
  • Is self-disciplined
  • Is proficient with technology
  • Efficiently uses time and resources to carry out objectives
  • Resolves work-related problems quickly
  • Takes full accountability for decisions, actions, and performance
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