Leading virtual teams

You might think that leading a „virtual“ team, where team members sit at different locations and sometimes even different countries or continents could be an easy task since you don’t have to deal with all the nitty-gritty of daily office stuff, but in fact leading a virtual team is not „leadership light“. It can be hard work and team leaders might need additional support e.g. from HR or other leads.

Here are some thoughts:

  • 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.
  • To gain this trust, personal meetings are vital. It might be expensive to get all team members together at one place, but it will pay off in the long-run with better relationships and levels of trust.
  • 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. Still, even with clear roles and „team rules“, the team leader should continue to look out for unresolved issues.
  • The team needs to find similarities among the differences and embrace intercultural diversity.
  • The team leader should facilitate informal communication between the team members and should be aware of potential reasons for conflict in the team. The  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.

What are your experiences with virtual teams? I’d love to hear from you!


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