Leadership in Virtual Teams

Posted: September 27, 2016

Introduction

            A virtual team comprises a group of employees who work and interact through electronic communication (Thompson, 2014, p. 23). The members may be found in the same locality or across the world thus a global virtual team. Many companies especially those dealing with electronic and software development value working with virtual teams. The leadership and management of these groups are necessary because of the challenges experienced when working with virtual teams. The leadership includes several processes such as assembling where the manager sets up a probation period from which members who meet all the requirements during the fixed period are considered to be part of the team. Also, the training process is mandatory to all the team members so as to meet the expectations of the organization. Managing the members using communication technologies is necessary in ensuring tasks and jobs from remote members are accomplished. Lastly, the leader is expected to control the team and establish the performance measures to evaluate and appraise the team. In doing this, the manager ensures that the project goals are met (Avolio, 2009, p. 422). Advantages of a virtual team include; savings on transportation, rents, and technology, time-saving, and instant exchange of information and communication. However, the demerits include; lack of direct control tools thus weak leadership may lead to reduced trust in virtual teams and some projects requiring on-site management may be hard to monitor. The paper will discuss the current trends in the virtual team and carry out a SWOT analysis of the administration of these organizations including the challenges managers face in controlling the groups.

Current Trends

            Globalization is among the emerging trends in the leadership of virtual teams (Stefano, 2009, p. 1018). The teams are not localized in one geographical region rather the members are dispersed throughout the globe. This has come up with its challenges. For example, the managers have difficulties in coordinating members because of the difference in time zones. There is excessive multi-tasking, especially during communication. The human resource needs to make the members aware that they should communicate when every time is your time zone. Communication is very critical in every organization, and thus, the managers should ensure that proper communication channels are established. They have set quick and immediate means of exchange of information such as what sap, emails, and video- teleconferencing.  The managers have developed a way of communicating workload and availability to achieve a shared work environment. Unlike the traditional virtual team where members were found within the same geographical location, globalization has created a way of interacting and employing expertise from other regions thus the managers have responded to the issue by enhancing the means of communication (Balthazard, 2009, p. 653).

            Building connections through online chatting is also another current trend in the management of virtual teams (Huang, 2010, p. 1099). The working environment is virtual, and thus, there is little or no face-to-face communication. Therefore, the leaders have come up with online chatting to enhance team interactions, team set-up or even conflict resolution. However, the leaders have to ensure quarterly annual physical meetings to improve performance and to build trust. The current use of emails and telephone calls has also helped develop confidence among the team members. Despite the use of online chatting, the need for face-to-face meetings cannot be disputed or replaced because it remains to be an important aspect of the management of virtual teams. The leaders have set up measures that make the members more authentic and consistent when dealing with the other colleagues, they have incorporated visual communication cues and facial expressions in the chats to create meaning and provide an informal opportunity to chat (Hoch, 2014, p. 390).

            Moreover, there is an increased incidence of conflict among members. This can be linked to globalization (Berry, 2011, p. 274). There is a lack of visual cues that contribute to miscommunication and inconsistent expectations. When a conflict results, the members react through electronic communication. The conflicts may arise due to language barriers, oral and written texts such as phone calls and emails respectively. It is not easy to hide conflicts behind the computer screens and thus the leaders should try to solve the misunderstanding through mediation and negotiations through immediate phone calls and physical meetings if possible. The managers have developed a strategy of clarifying the organization’s goals, objectives, expectations, and norms during the forming initial stages to avoid conflicts later.

            Besides, cross-cultural communication has set in (Thompson, 2014, p. 290). The team members may be people from different regions speaking different languages. Language barrier is the most common obstacle to communication that may result in conflicts. For example, an English word may have different interpretations in different cultures. The accent may also play a role especially when communication is made through phone calls. The leaders are working to clarify the meaning of commonly used word that may bring a misunderstanding. They also encourage team members to learn and understand the culture of the other group and respect their differences (Ned, 2009, p. 100).

            Furthermore, there is increased the speed of virtual deliveries (Flammia, 2010, p. 90). The leaders have set up faster means of communication as compared to the traditional virtual teams. The exchange of information is instant because of the improved internet connection and the competition among service delivers.  The world has become like a global village with increased networking, and thus, companies have to develop quick means of communication to avoid delays that may cause customer dissatisfaction. Online access to services has been enabled to link consumers to the producers. The leaders of virtual team need to manage the teams well to ensure that the goals of the organization are met (Ebrahim, 2009, p. 2654).

SWOT Analysis

The strengths of virtual teams include the recruitment of highly qualified and skilled personnel across the globe. The leaders focus on rewarding and appraising highly performing workers thus boosting performance. There is advanced digital infrastructure with a centralized human resource that controls and monitors the employers. The team members are people with experience of virtual work within the organization. Also, the use of advanced technologies as part of the organization's culture is a strength. The weaknesses include, a little training on technology may cause detrimental effects to the society and that the human resources may be incompetent in managing virtual teams as a result of inadequate training. The members may not be trained on how to work in a virtual environment with inadequate guidelines on choosing the most appropriate technologies to use in the organization. Moreover, the members may not be aware of the significance and value of virtual team processes and techniques (Thompson, 2014, p. 300).

            The opportunities available are the several applicable technologies that are available for use in the management of virtual teams. There is also cost reduction because of the increased use of technology that cuts down transport, relocation, and communication expenses.  Also, the use of collaboration technologies will result in little time spend during traveling; thus, virtual teams are time-saving on the part of management.  On the other hand, the threats posed are as a result of failure to maximize the benefits of collaboration technologies that may lead to increased travel costs (Thompson, 2014, p. 301).

Challenges in Leadership of Virtual Teams

            The human resources lack physical contact with the team members thus it is hard to manage the members, especially when the leader lacks virtual management skills. It is not possible to express emotions even when the manager is dissatisfied with the work done.  It is tougher to represent information visually than with physical teams. It is difficult to hold the team members accountable and may not be responsible for some mistakes in the organization. The leaders find it hard to manage the time zones since many of their workers are in different locales. Creative scheduling is needed to accommodate all the team members.  The leaders have few opportunities to interact, bond, and create rapport with the members because of the physical distance (Thompson, 2014, p. 350).

Conclusion

 Virtual teams are increasingly becoming the commonest workforce used in the world today. This is due to the growth of information technology. The leaders have to be trained in the management and handling of the teams for effectiveness in the organization. Many issues surrounding the leadership of virtual teams have emerged despite the associated strengths and weaknesses. The managers and the team are faced with challenges that they should try to address by finding solutions to them.

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