Critical Success Factors for Virtual Teams

With more organizations realizing the higher ROI associated with the virtual work environment, virtual teams are scoring over traditional teams. The business case for virtual teams talks about the cost savings, leveraging global talent, increase in productivity and higher profits. Virtual teams improve the bottom line of the business. Just like a tree gives tasty fruits only after the farmer nurture it with healthy seeds and soil. Similarly before the organizations reap benefits of virtual project teams, they have to provide supporting drivers in terms of processes, policies and practices which are critical for it success. This closely outlines the aim of this article.

We will look at the 9 most critical success factors for the success of a virtual team.

  1. Clear Definition of Success - The first requirement is that the objective, why virtual team is formed should be clearly defined. The measures of success have to be realistic and outlined in a succinct manner. The team leader should develop a project charter complete with the end goal and milestones with realistic timelines which should be easily understood by all the members. This would provide a sense of direction to all the members and guide them in times of uncertainty.

  2. Availability of Technology - Organizations should invest to buy and support good electronic and collaboration technological tools. All the team members should have easy access and skills to work with these tools. Both asynchronous tools like emails and synchronous technological tools like videoconferencing, instant messaging should be provided. The technical support should be easily available for members located in different time zones.

  3. Selection of Team Members - Individual competencies necessary to perform in a virtual environment should be emphasized while selecting the team members for virtual team. Since the virtual team involves unique challenges and risks, the members require specific knowledge, skills and abilities to work productively and effectively in it. This includes but is not limited to intercultural sensitivity, trustworthiness, self motivation and expertise in using various electronic and collaborative technology tools.

  4. Principles of Engagement - One of the biggest drivers to ensure virtual team members are engaged and committed to shared goal is giving them regular feedback. Asking each one of the members to share their opinion will make them feel part of the decision making. Team leaders should regularly send the team progress updates this would ensure all the members are aware of the project status. When every member of the team feels engaged, they will work on their assigned task with the best of their ability.

  5. Strong Trust & Social Ties - The knowledge exchange and collaboration required to deliver project tasks are build on the strong foundation of trust and social ties among the virtual team members. When people feel comfortable and confident about each other, they demonstrate constructive individual behavior which positively contributes to the success of virtual teams.

  6. Supportive Top Management - The top management of the organization should support the virtual team by giving them the flexibility and freedom. Virtual teams work best in non-bureaucratic and flatter organization structure where decisions are taken faster.

  7. Encouraging HR Policies - The HR policies applicable for virtual team should take into account the complexity and challenges associated with the work environment as well as members’ competencies. Fair promotion and career development opportunities should be extended as well as reward and recognition program should appreciate collaborative efforts along with the pre-defined performance metric. Training & Development programs should be made accessible to virtual team members by making use of the ICT tools such as web-based trainings as well as designing training databases.

  8. Hand-on & Networked Leadership Style - Leader is the binding force in a virtual team environment. Team members look up to him in any situation. Virtual team leaders should have prior expertise in handling virtual team or at least be provided extensive training to understand its dynamics. He should be adept in providing resources for efficient working by team members, managing conflicts, cross cultural issues as well as keeping the enthusiasm levels high. He should use variety of communication channels to monitor the performance as well as provide prompt feedback and solutions to problems.

  9. Positive Internal Branding - Though it is true that organizations recognize virtual teams as a boost to their competitive advantage, but still many employees perceive that working in a virtual environment will hinder their career progression because infrequent face-to-face interactions with supervisors will lower their chances for promotions etc. It is important to design a strong internal communication strategy that changes this perception and presents working in a virtual team environment as a chance to showcase the versatility of the workforce.

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