Video conferencing, instant messaging, email and other online collaboration tools provide more opportunities than ever before to work with employees from around the globe. As difficult as building teams can be, building a virtual team has land mines that even the most experienced manager must work diligently to avoid to ensure her team’s success.
Trust in a Virtual Team
In 2001, Hoefling discussed in her book, Working Virtually, how important trust is in a virtual team. She writes that communication, performance, and integrity form the “alchemy of trust.” This may be one of the most difficult factors to accomplish in building virtual teams. When relying on email, instant messaging, and some other online collaboration methods to communicate across large distances, we lose visual and auditory clues to the intention of other people.
In their article, “Building Trust across Virtual Boundaries,” Asherman, Bing and Laroche wrote that while people from the U.S. tend to trust others as their default position, people living in other countries, like France and Italy, initially distrust others’ motives. Combine this with other cultural differences and the team members may quickly be at odds with one another.
Lack of the appropriate tools can cripple a team, upset team members, and have an adverse impact on the project. Mohn writes in article, Do Virtual Teams Work? Study Finds Widespread Challenges, that being unable to see one another or read non-verbal cues during interactions can lead to communication problems. Communication tools, such as video conferencing, which gives team members the opportunity to see who they are working with, aid communication and reduce misunderstandings.
Technical and Teamwork Training
Teamwork training to use online collaboration tools, build trust, and understand some of the cultural differences between team members can increase the effectiveness of a virtual team. Since many employees have not had previous experience working in virtual teams, they may not be familiar with common collaboration tools and software. Learning anything new is stressful and many people resist change. Offering training will ease some of these fears and let employees know that management is willing and able to support them as they adapt to a virtual environment.
Benefits of Online Collaboration
Using a virtual team gives a business access to resources and diverse ideas that are not available with traditional teams. While building a successful virtual team takes time, planning, effort and money, the results of a successful online collaboration are well worth the effort.