IntroductionVirtual teams are increasingly becoming common in the corporate world especially with multinational corporations needing to hire employees with varied expertise globally. Working virtually has had widespread adoption due to the emerging technologies that enable massive cost savings in virtual teamwork. However, while virtual teams are capable of out-performing traditional on-site teams, reaching that level of efficiency requires a careful and capable manager.
Among the five dysfunctions of a team, lack of trust is the greatest barrier to productivity in virtual teams. In virtual teams, the members cannot see what the others are doing, they cannot be sure of whether they will get responses promptly, and members are rarely awake at once. Trust is also problematic when only part of the team is virtual as office workers tend to view virtual workers as lazy while virtual workers may miss out on socialization that would enhance trust (Brahm, & Kunze, 2012). Team members with a lack of trust in other members try to conceal their mistakes and weaknesses from one another as they are afraid to ask for help. Additionally, such members shy away from giving help outside their responsibility areas. Since the members want to give the appearance of trusting their colleagues, they waste a lot of energy and time managing their behaviors to please the other team members (Brahm, & Kunze, 2012) Rather than fostering an environment of mistrust, team managers should ensure that all team members are aware of each members contribution. Managers should recognize that when virtual teams first meet, they are willing to give each other the benefit of doubt since success depends on team efforts and failure can all of their careers. This phenomenon is called Swift trust and managers can leverage it to foster trust among team members. They should set clear goals that everyone understands at the beginning of the project, and acknowledge the individual strengths of the various team members.
In larger virtual teams of above 25 members, it might be cumbersome trying to keep track of all the members contributions, which may lead to information overload and inefficient communication among team members. New virtual team managers mistakenly assume that more communications such as e-mail updates, and weekly meetings, is better in ensuring everyone is kept up to date. However, this leads to information overload where team members start ignoring these emails (Morgan, Paucar-Caceres, & Wright, 2014). The key to effective communication is not the quantity but rather the predictability of the team communications. In a global study of distributed teams, researchers found that teams with unpredictable communication patterns tended to have lesser trust than teams with good communication procedures (Daim, Ha, Reutiman, Hughes, Pathak, Bynum, & Bhatla, 2012). In contrast, high performing teams have regular communications where team members all contribute and are careful to let others know when they may be unavailable. Lack of trust is a common problem in virtual teams as failure to respond to queries and calls for action result in mistrust. Team policies should specify how fast people should respond to queries and list follow up procedures when someone fails to respond (Morgan, Paucar-Caceres, & Wright, 2014).
Virtual teams and their managers should take the time to build trust among themselves as it eases communication and team effectiveness. Managers should also recognize the potential harmful effects of information overload and take appropriate procedures to mitigate the risk. Quality and predictable communication have also been cited as facilitating trust building and increased efficiency of virtual teams.
Brahm, T., & Kunze, F. (2012). The role of trust climate in virtual teams.Journal of Managerial Psychology, 27(6), 595-614.
Daim, T. U., Ha, A., Reutiman, S., Hughes, B., Pathak, U., Bynum, W., & Bhatla, A. (2012). Exploring the communication breakdown in global virtual teams. International Journal of Project Management, 30(2), 199-212.
Morgan, L., Paucar-Caceres, A., & Wright, G. (2014). Leading effective global virtual teams: The consequences of methods of communication.Systemic Practice and Action Research, 27(6), 607-624.
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