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HR Challenges: Managing Virtual Work Teams - SHRM India

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Scholars and practitioners differ on the definition of team and the degree of virtuality....

Scholars and practitioners differ on the definition of team and the degree of virtuality.

The common factor is the predominant use of technology.

Definition: An interdependent group of individuals who predominantly use technology to communicate, collaborate, share information and coordinate their efforts in order to accomplish a common work-related objective.

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  • After reviewing 49 empirical virtual team studies dating from the time the term “virtual team” was coined, Dube and Pare (2004) remarked, “To achieve a better understanding of virtual teams, researchers must first agree on a common definition” (p. 3). Common definitions are a rarity in the virtual team literature, which spans a wide spectrum of disciplines. Scholars disagree not only about the degree of virtuality that constitutes a virtual team but also in their definition of “team.” Some define virtual teams as “groups of geographically and culturally dispersed co-workers using a combination of communication and information technologies to accomplish an organizational task” (Andriessen & Verburg, 2004, p. 270). Others put less emphasis on their geographic and cultural dispersion and define them as “a group of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time and organization boundaries using technology” (Lipnack & Stamps, 2004, p. 18). Dube and Pare (2004), however, criticize definitions that overemphasize physical dispersion; they argue that workers may share a common location but be present at different times. They assert that the defining characteristic of virtual teams is their predominant use of information and communication technology to “communicate, collaborate, share information and coordinate their efforts” (p. 4). They also distinguish virtual teams from virtual groups, virtual communities and virtual organizations by highlighting Katzenbach and Smith’s (1993) assertion that what defines a team is their commitment “to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable” (p. 112). Considering all of these perspectives, we will use the following definition: A virtual team is an interdependent group of individuals who predominantly use technology to communicate, collaborate, share information and coordinate their efforts in order to accomplish a common work-related objective. Now that we know what a virtual team is, let’s talk about why they are becoming more common and what organizational opportunities they present. [Advance to next slide.]
  • Consider this quote by Duarte and Snyder (2006), “In today’s business environment, organizations must adapt quickly or die. Gaining competitive advantage in a global environment means continually reshaping the organization to maximize strengths, address threats, and increase speed. The use of virtual teams has become a common way of doing this.” How do you think virtual teams enable organizations to adapt quickly? [Steer discussion toward the idea of leveraging talent that is right for the task at hand without the constraint of geographic location.] There are other reasons why teams are going virtual. For example, virtual teams increase the diversity of perspective. Why is that important? Virtual teams decrease the amount of travel required to do business. What are the advantages of decreasing travel? [Discuss results of less travel, including improved work-life balance which leads to greater job satisfaction, possibly less turnover and decreased operating costs.] In today’s global, fast-paced economy, virtual teams help organizations become more responsive and adaptive to the business environment. Yet, virtual teams also present challenges. [Advance to next slide.]
  • As we discussed, virtual teams can have a positive affect at the organizational level, but there can be challenges at the team level. Based on your required reading of Mastering Virtual Teams by Duarte and Snyder (2006), can you think of any? Very good! The virtual team manager may encounter these challenges. [Click on mouse to make bullets appear. Read from the slide.] Virtual team members may encounter these challenges. [Click on mouse to make bullets appear. Read from the slide.] Can you think of any others? The good news is that with the right competencies and skills, virtual teams can overcome their challenges. [Advance to next slide.]
  • HR professionals--particularly those in the strategic HR, organizational development, and training and development specialties--must proactively monitor the development and proliferation of virtual teams in their organizations and plan and implement policies and procedures to support virtual teams. HR professionals must ensure that virtual team managers and members have the competencies, skills and technologies they need to succeed. Let’s take a look at what specific competencies and skills are required of virtual team managers and members.
  • As you’ll recall from your required reading, Duarte and Snyder identify the following competencies and skills for virtual managers and team members. [Read slide. Note: “Spanning boundaries” refers to the ability to understand and be sensitive to cultural, functional and organizational boundaries. Definitions of other competency and skill categories are found in the required reading— Mastering Virtual Teams by Duarte and Snyder.] Do any of these strike you as being more important than others? Can you think of any others not listed? Now we’re going to apply what we’ve learned in this lesson to a case study. [Advance to next slide.]
  • You may be familiar with Bruce Tuckman’s model for the life cycle of a team. Virtual teams differ from traditional collocated teams because technology mediates the stages; the types of conflicts and activities experienced in each stage may differ from traditional teams. What virtual managers should do at each stage and what technology they should use is very important. Let’s discuss each stage and what virtual managers should do to support their team: Forming—During the forming stage, everyone is excited about the new project. Now is the time for the virtual manager to define expectations and ground rules for who does what, when and with what technology. Virtual managers should model from the start which technologies are appropriate for which tasks. Storming—During the storming stage, team members are usually in conflict about expectations, work style and especially communication when the team is virtual. To make this stage as brief as possible, virtual managers must establish guidelines and model appropriate behavior about how to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Managers should constantly refocus the team on its goals and objectives. Norming—During the norming stage, people become comfortable with each other and their roles. Virtual managers must monitor virtual team processes and standards and adapt them as needed. Performing—During the performing stage, the team is working at its best, meeting their individual and team goals. Virtual mangers should remove any roadblocks and give team members the tools they need to keep working. Adjourning—During the adjourning stage, the team concludes the project. Team members may experience stress about making final deadlines and the breaking up of the team. Virtual managers should recognize accomplishments, evaluate lessons learned and provide clear direction for what’s next. [Advance to next slide.]
  • What is an effective virtual team? Virtual teams are most effective at the performing stage because they have ironed out any conflicts and have built trust. According to Brown, Huettner, and James-Tanny, effective virtual teams: Understand their shared goals and objectives. Know what is expected of them. Have the technology they need to accomplish their tasks. Know how to use that technology. Are motivated to use the technology to perform their jobs well. So how does a virtual manager move the team from the storming stage to the performing stage? [Advance to next slide.]
  • Virtual team managers set ground rules during the team kick-off meeting. During this meeting, they must: Articulate team goals and objectives List roles and responsibilities Determine when and how the team will communicate both formally and informally Team meetings Information sharing Guidelines and rules for using different technologies External communication Determine standards for when and how to coordinate team tasks Communicating status to manager, team members, client Tracking tasks Risk management Set guidelines for collaboration Brainstorming Sharing documents Making decisions Devise a strategy for relationship and trust building from a distance Virtual community Reliability Conflict management Determine when and how to execute best practices for performance management One-on-one meetings Motivational and formative feedback Note that the when and how (and with what technology) of each of these elements is key when the team is virtual.
  • Common conflicts experienced by virtual teams include: An uneven distribution of knowledge (project, organization, best practices). This may be caused by cliques formed according to geographic proximity and/or common culture. Mistrust between team members. Mistrust is often caused by time lags in e-mail responses. Team members jump to conclusions about why they aren’t receiving what they consider to be a timely response. Misunderstandings in technology-mediated communication. For example, sarcasm is often misinterpreted because nonverbal, socio-emotional cues aren’t possible in virtual environments. People relax their inhibitions when they are virtual and may say inappropriate things they normally wouldn’t if face-to-face. Research shows that reaching consensus and making decisions is more difficult virtually.
  • Conflicts are often caused by a mismatch between the tool and the task. For example, [read slide]. Have you experienced these conflicts? If you have, please share them with us. Lauren is beginning to experience some of these problems with her team. [Advance to next slide.]
  • The first conflict Lauren experiences occurs when [read slide]: What should Lauren do? [Possible answer: Use the telephone. Call and ask the team member not responding to the e-mails what is causing the delay. Then call the team member who is complaining to give them the explanation.] What could Lauren have done to prevent the conflict from occurring in the first place? [Possible answer: She could have set standards for sending e-mail responses. The standard should consider the geographic time zone; the response time should be longer for those separated by a greater distance.]
  • The second conflict Lauren experiences occurs when [read slide]: What should Lauren do? [Possible answer: Arrange a team meeting via a web conferencing or videoconferencing system and outline the tasks for which IM should be used. Identify a collaborative software for problem solving.] What could Lauren have done to prevent the conflict from occurring in the first place? [Possible answer: She could have provided rules and best practices for when to use each technological tool.]
  • The third conflict Lauren experiences occurs when [read slide]. What should Lauren do? [Possible answer: During the next team meeting, Lauren should announce a new way of distributing and sharing knowledge via SharePoint. Team members will use a threaded discussion board for sharing best practices, and an announcements section will list any major project or organizational news.] What proactive steps could Lauren have taken to prevent the conflict from occurring? [Possible answer: She should have set guidelines for tools and provided examples of what kinds of information are considered relevant for the entire team to know.] As you can see, many of the conflicts could have been prevented by setting very specific ground rules and providing tips about each technology being used.
  • This presentation provides several important ideas that can be applied in particularly difficult conflict situations.

HR Challenges: Managing Virtual Work Teams - SHRM India HR Challenges: Managing Virtual Work Teams - SHRM India Presentation Transcript

  • Managing Virtual Work Teams by Frankie S. Jones, Ph.D. ©SHRM 2008 Employee and Labor Relations
  • What is a Virtual Team?
    • Scholars and practitioners differ on the definition of team and the degree of virtuality.
    • The common factor is the predominant use of technology.
    • Definition: An interdependent group of individuals who predominantly use technology to communicate, collaborate, share information and coordinate their efforts in order to accomplish a common work-related objective.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Organizational Opportunities
    • Virtual teams:
    • Enable organizations to adapt more quickly to the global economy.
    • Leverage talent.
    • Increase the diversity of perspectives.
    • Decrease travel and mandatory relocation.
    • Improve work-life balance and job satisfaction.
    • Decrease operating costs.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Team Challenges
    • Manager
    • Tracks and coordinates project tasks.
    • Measures performance.
    • Gives formative and motivational feedback.
    • Distributes information evenly.
    • Builds trust.
    • Understands local issues.
    • Senses team member conflicts.
    • Spots talent.
    • Communicates without the use of nonverbal cues.
    • Team Members
    • Access their manager.
    • Receive formative and motivational feedback.
    • Receive information.
    • Feel trust for team members and the manager.
    • Field local challenges of which the manager and other team members are not aware.
    • Have special talents.
    • Communicate without the use of nonverbal cues.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • What is the role of the HR Professional?
    • Be proactive by recognizing virtual team trends in your organization.
    • Be strategic by planning and implementing policies and procedures that support and institutionalize the virtual team.
    • Ensure that virtual managers and team members have the competencies, skills and technologies they need to succeed.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Competencies and Skills
    • Manager
    • Coaches and monitors job performance (performance management).
    • Ensures the appropriate use of information technology.
    • Manages across cultures.
    • Aids team members’ career development and transition.
    • Builds and maintains trust.
    • Networks.
    • Develops and adapts standard team processes.
    • Team Members
    • Effectively manage projects.
    • Network.
    • Use technology effectively.
    • Can self-manage.
    • Span boundaries.
    • Have good interpersonal awareness.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Team Life Cycle ©SHRM 2008 Phase What virtual managers should do… Forming Set clear expectations and ground rules, especially about the appropriate use of technology. Storming Establish guidelines and model appropriate behavior for resolving interpersonal conflicts. Norming Monitor virtual team processes and standards and adapt them as needed. Performing Make sure the team has the tools they need to perform their best. Adjourning Archive lessons learned and recognize team accomplishments.
  • Effective Virtual Teams Have:
      • Shared team objectives.
      • Knowledge of what to do.
      • Equipment to do it.
      • Ability to do it.
      • Desire to do it.
      • Brown, Huettner, and James-Tanny (2007)
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Set Ground Rules
    • Team goals and objectives
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Formal and informal communication
    • Project and task coordination
    • Collaboration
    • Relationship and trust building
    • Performance management
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Common Conflicts
    • Uneven knowledge dissemination.
    • Mistrust (e-mail lags).
    • Misinterpretation (no socio-emotional cues).
    • Relaxed inhibitions.
    • Reaching consensus is more difficult.
    • Longer to make decisions.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • The Wrong Tool for the Task
    • Using IM to make complex decisions with several group members.
    • Trying to resolve conflict through e-mail.
    • Using a videoconference to ask simple questions.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Conflict: Lags in E-mail
    • Delays in e-mail responses generate mistrust between two team members.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Conflict: Tool Not Matched with the Task
    • One team member complains that other team members use instant messaging to solve complex problems and a resolution is never reached.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Conflict: Knowledge Distribution
    • There is an uneven exchange of project knowledge.
    ©SHRM 2008
  • Thank You! For more on Indian HR industry, click here Resource made available by SHRM US