5 tips for effectively leading a virtual team

Sabrina Renz

14. May 2020

Successful management of a virtual team

Virtual teams offer great opportunities to use employees efficiently over large distances using technology. However, the requirements for managers have changed significantly due to the digital possibilities. In the following, we would like to explain what is particularly important when leading a virtual team.

Over 70 percent of all virtual teams fail

Anyone who has to ensure the successful leadership of a virtual team will surely pay attention to the study results of the Rochus Mummert Consulting Group. These clearly demonstrate the importance of management skills, especially when it comes to leading teams that only interact using communication technology and electronic correspondence. If three out of four teams fail, but the management of a virtual team is to be retained as a future perspective in the company, new strategies for personnel management are needed.

VIST model or transformational leadership of a virtual team

The authors of the study come to the conclusion that, above all, a lack of trust leads to the failure of a virtual team. The absence of real, interpersonal communication through body language and eye contact is a crucial factor in failed team building processes. However, openness and trust could hardly be achieved, or to a much lesser extent, via virtual communication channels. This creates a lack of security.

The “Digital Transformation Thought Leader” of IBM Germany and professor at the FOM University of Management & Economics Markus H. Dahm explains in his book “Operational Excellence by means of Transformation Management” that the management of a virtual team is not only possible with the VIST model be accomplished, but challenge the team manager as a so-called “change agent”. This leads his employees to independently question the previous way of working in order to convince them of the necessity or the advantages of the virtual method.

5 tips for successfully managing virtual teams

Because of the enormous challenge that managers face when leading a virtual team, it can be helpful to note 5 effective and proven points that increase the chances of success in the cooperation of digitally networked employee teams.

  • Daily video conferencing
  • Temporal structure
  • Feedback, communication and trust
  • Personal contact
  • Intercultural and cross-lifestyle communication

The daily video conference

A morning meeting is part of the routine, especially for virtual teams. So there is clarity about the current project status and the progress made so far by the individual team members. In addition, upcoming tasks can be distributed and any questions can be cleared out of the way. The individual employee gets the feeling of being dependent on each other and jointly responsible for the success of their project.

Temporal structure

Anyone working on a project together must also be able to reach colleagues with problems or questions. Especially with virtual teams in different time zones, excellent time management is required in order to coordinate the respective work processes of the employees so that the working time is not wasted waiting for the urgently needed results from other team members. A fixed daily schedule with common core times would be advisable.

Feedback, communication and trust

When managing a virtual team, a functioning feedback culture is essential. A team can only work productively if they feel that their performance is recognized and effective. Therefore, team members need to trust not only their manager, but above all their colleagues. Managing this communication is one of the main tasks in leading virtual teams. This requires openness on the part of the manager and the recognition of individual differences among the employees.

Personal contact

Therefore, personal contact is part of a successful team building. Many virtual teams get to know each other at the first kick-off meetings in the real world. This strengthens cohesion and later simplifies virtual communication. If the employee knows who he is “at the other end of the line” and how he responds to questions or suggestions, this greatly reduces the risk of misunderstandings. In addition, it can be helpful to set up shared virtual breaks in which the team can sit together online, drink coffee and exchange ideas about issues beyond work.

Intercultural and cross-lifestyle communication

Every team leader is well aware of the fact that cultures can sometimes lead to communication difficulties. In addition, however, violent conflicts also arise between colleagues from the same cultural group if they maintain very different lifestyles. This is often the case when employees who are parents meet colleagues who are completely free in their time allocation. Here it is important to convey very carefully as a manager and to avoid a deeper conflict.

Conclusion

As a project report from the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg shows, the lack of both intrinsic motivators and extrinsic hygiene factors can easily jeopardize the performance of a virtual team. For this reason, it should not be underestimated how important the motivation of the members is for the success of a virtual team. Digital motivation must focus even more than the analog one on the individual strengths and competencies of the individual members in order to strengthen their responsibility towards the project.

Sources:

https://www.rochusmummert.com/downloads/news/EW_Virtuelle_Teams_FD.pdf

https://www.springerprofessional.de/operational-excellence-mittel-transformation-management/4300634

https://www.wiso.uni-hamburg.de/fachbereich-sozoek/professuren/schramm/archiv/project-report-influencing-factors-to-the-motivation-virtueller-team members.pdf

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