"Globally linked virtual teams will transform every government and company in the world. Any of our peers who don’t do it won’t survive."
-John Chambers, CEO, Cisco
Rising travel costs, coupled with the global dispersion of talent, are just some of the reasons that organizations have migrted toward telecommuting and virtual work. While numerous organizations have made significant investments in virtual teams and the technology to support them, a surprising number of virtual teams are not reaching their full potential.
OnPoint Consulting surveyed 48 virtual teams across industries and found that there are specific practices associated with successful virtual teams. We were surprised to find that many of the virtual teams in our study struggled with fundamental issues such as not having clear roles and responsibilities or not having a shared process for decision making.
What makes top performing virtual teams successful? Our research identified five key ingredients for optimal virtual team performance:
Trust one another to get things done. Trust is a top factor for virtual team success but task-based trust (a belief that team members will do their job) is especially difficult to develop when interactions among team members are infrequent and difficult to arrange. Trust builds when people follow through on commitments and hold one another accountable for results.
Processes for communicating, decision making and problem solving. Communication challenges are more pronounced in a virtual setting, especially when there is a lack of face-to-face contact and time zone barriers. However, high performing virtual teams find ways overcome these challenges. Effective team leaders ensure that communication processes are established early on and revisited over time. In addition, low performing virtual teams did not establish processes to facilitate problem solving and decision making.
Leveraging others to get work done. Successful virtual teams have figured out how to effectively collaborate from a distance. For example. they involve team members and help one another achieve team goals rather than independently executing tasks and objectives. If organizations invest time and resources in virtual teams, then it is important to capitalize on this and ensure that team members understand how to work together to achieve their goals. Successful teams develop operating guidelines to help structure team communication.
Understand how their work aligns with the strategy of their organization. High performing virtual teams are clear about how their work contributes to the success of the organization. This is extremely important in a virtual environment where team members may feel isolated and it is common for team members to become disengaged.
Demonstrate a high level of initiative. Members of high performing teams are more proactive and engaged, and they demonstrate higher levels of initiative. One way to do this is by creating a team charter to enhance commitment and accountability. In addition, even though the majority of teams had dedicated team leaders, team members on high performing teams proactively took on leadership responsibilities as required.
If organizations want to maximize their return on investment, they should ensure that these core practices are in place and continually evaluate the performance of their virtual teams against these factors to assess progress over time.