The Reality of Virtual Teams

By Bergiel, Blaise J.; Bergiel, Erich B. et al. | Competition Forum, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Reality of Virtual Teams


Bergiel, Blaise J., Bergiel, Erich B., Balsmeier, Phillip W., Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In today's market, global virtual teams are not the exception but the rule as companies expand into the global market. Executives are constantly pressured to get their products and services to worldwide markets and to help they are turning to the best people regardless of their location, culture, or language and bringing them together as virtual teams. It is important for managers to realize that while virtual teams can be highly successful, however, they are not the answer for every organization or project. Stakeholders should be aware of the elements of success, the barriers to success, the advantages, and the disadvantages of this tool.

Keywords: Virtual Teams, Teams, Multi-culture Teams

INTRODUCTION

Many experts agree that teams are the primary unit of performance in any organization. In the 90's a new kind of team emerged, virtual teams or virtual teaming (Furst et al., 2004). Over the past decade the concept of virtual teaming has taken shape, and many companies have embraced its underlying principles to enable them to become more agile, and compete more robustly in the world arena (Jungalwalla, 2000). Virtual teaming is probably something no one really planned, it just happened and it happened because the technology was there. But are these teams really different from traditional teams? What are some of the benefits of the virtual team? What are some of the problems with virtual teams?

In today's economy, the organization that is able to rapidly create teams of talented people to respond to customer needs is the one that will be the most successful. However, geography, culture, language, and time act as barriers to assembling such talented teams, unless virtual teaming is utilized. In our current global market with high speed Internet access, virtual teaming is becoming an important tool. Virtual teams include a team of people working at different geographic locations, utilizing telecommunication technology. Many of the elements used in successful face-to-face teams are also necessary for successful virtual teams. These elements of success include trust, communication, leadership, and technology. Virtual teams are also faced with certain barriers that can hinder their performance. These barriers to success include multiple time zones, communication barriers, and conflict resolution issues. It is important for organizations to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams. Considering the success of virtual teams, they will continue to play a vital role in today's global market.

WHAT ARE VIRTUAL TEAMS?

"A virtual team is a group of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time, and organization boundaries using technology" (Lipnack and Stamps, 2000, page 18). In the early 1990's, virtual teaming was little more than a novelty phrase (Katzenbach and Smith, 2001). Over the past decade the concept has taken shape, and many companies have embraced its underlying principles to enable them to become more agile, and compete more robustly in the world arena. Virtual teams allow people to communicate across the world, without leaving the comforts of their office or home. "The use of teams is on the rise, and with a quarter of a billion people on the planet already online, the face-to-face aspect of normal working relationships is changing dramatically" (Lipnack and Stamps, 2000, page 4). As a result of global competition and advances in technology, virtual teams have exploded as a type of work group; nearly two-thirds of organizations in the United States utilize virtual teams to execute business strategies ("Virtually Trusting", 2002).

WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL TEAM?

A virtual team, like every other team, is a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997). Unlike traditional teams, a virtual team works across space, time and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies. …

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