Friday thought: leading virtual teams

Today I’d like to share some thoughts on leading virtual (international) teams.

  • Successful virtual teams need more than just the technical infrastructure (network, e-mail, chat, video conferencing etc.) – the main focus should be trust and transparency.
  • Roles, responsibilities, goals and mutual expectations need to be discussed and be clear right from the start, otherwise a lot of momentum will be lost by trying to clear up misunderstandings.
  • The team needs to find similiarities among the differences and embrace intercultural diversity.
  • It might be expensive, but having a least one personal meeting of all team members will help to build relationships and trust.
  • The team leader should facilitate informal communication between the team members and should be aware of potential reasons for conflict in the team. The team leader needs to observe whether one nationality has the majority in the team, how many native speakers of the common language the team has, whether there are team members of the same nationality as the team leader or team members who share the office with the team leader and thus might be seen by other team members as having more influence.
  • The team needs communication rules and a „team charta“ which helps to respect cultural differences and to focus on the tasks.
  • A result-oriented leadership style will be more effective than a process-oriented leadership style.

Leading a virtual team is not „leadership light“, but can be hard work and team leaders might need additional support. In a nutshell: please don’t forget that people are people, even when you only „meet“ them on your computer or on the telephone. Treat your team members as if you shared an office with them. If you have an international team, remember that while you might be using the same software and tools, your brains might be wired differently depending on the culture you grew up in. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and don’t take anything for granted. And watch this space for further thoughts on leadership, diverse teams and culture.

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