Why are Global Virtual Teams Falling Short of their Potential?

May 5, 20168:17 am1394 views

In today’s complex, global environment, it’s hard to imagine work without interdisciplinary, virtual teams. What is surprising is that half of those teams include members from other cultures, a further indication of how global business is becoming.

According to the 2016 Trends in Global Virtual Teams conducted by RW³ CultureWizard, 1,372 respondents from 80 countries said that 85% of corporate employees serve on such global virtual teams, and almost 20% spend over half of their day interacting with these teams.

According to Charlene Solomon, President of RWCultureWizard, “Almost everyone who works in global business is on a virtual team and 85% of them say it is critical to their productivity. These teams confront unique challenges because the lack of face-to-face contact magnifies and intensifies the impact of cultural differences between team members.”

The lack of face-to-face contact makes it very difficult: to understand communication (51%), to manage conflict (51%), and to establish trust and build relationships (45%).

“What makes these challenges particularly acute is that most people are unprepared for them,” says Michael S. Schell, CEO of RWCultureWizard. “Organizations large and small continue to make the erroneous assumption that virtual teamwork comes easy because of cutting edge communication technology. Only 22% of virtual team members receive any training to prepare them to be effective on an intercultural team. Surprisingly, this is an increase of only 1% over the 2014 survey results.”

Schell continues, “The total economic impact on productivity represented by these virtual team challenges is incalculable, but obviously significant, and relatively simple to improve.”

Solomon also points out that leadership is also a critical issue. “In our survey, 58% of team participants felt that half of their leaders were not adequately prepared for their role. The leadership skills that work domestically, often break down when applied to multicultural virtual teams, where leaders need to anticipate how their leadership style affects people from diverse places.”

See: Virtual Teams: Getting People to Work Apart

Some of the survey’s key findings are:

  • 85% of respondents say that virtual team work is extremely or somewhat critical to their job.
  • 22% work on at least four virtual teams.
  • Almost 20% of respondents spend over half of the day interacting on virtual teams.
  • Only 22% of respondents received training to increase their productivity on virtual teams.
  • Almost half (48%) of respondents report that over half of their virtual teams include members from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Almost one quarter (23%) of say their virtual teams fail to capitalize on their cultural diversity.
  • 41% report that their teams never meet in person, 28% once a year, 31% at least twice a year
  • The following were cited as some of the biggest challenges for global virtual teamwork:
    • Colleagues who do not participate (79%)
    • Pace of decision making (79%)
    • Time required making decisions (75%)
    • Different expectations for how to manage and for how to be managed (74%)
    • Follow-through of team members (74%)
  • Lack of face-to-face contact has the greatest impact on productivity in the following areas: understanding the full context of what people communicate (51%), managing conflict (48%), and establishing trust and building relationships (45%).

Best Practices for Effective Virtual Teamwork

  1. Team charter: Create structures and guidelines for team interaction. This is crucial and should be one of the first activities of the team. Since culture has an impact on team behaviour, it’s important to discuss and establish operating rules—especially for activities such as how meeting times are scheduled, the decision making process, expectations about participation and debate, and methods for expressing disagreements.
  2. Agenda: Create an agenda beforehand. This provides the necessary time for people to formulate their thoughts and questions.
  3. Summary notes: Distribute a short recap after each meeting so that everyone understands what occurred.
  4. Time-zone rotation: Vary the time of virtual meetings to accommodate the schedules of participants in each of the different time zones. This more fairly spreads the difficulty and inconvenience of attending.
  5. Trust: The importance of trust cannot be overstated. It is built by members adhering to their commitments and investing in relationships with other team members.
  6. Relationships: Take time to develop relationships. Allow time to share some personal information such as hobbies, vacations, etc. to find commonalities and areas in which you share interests.
  7. Participation: Be sure everyone participates by soliciting opinions and polling participants. For those who are reluctant to contribute, consider using pre-meetings and taking specific subjects offline, as appropriate.
  8. Language difficulties: Since accents remain a big challenge, be sure to maintain an environment where people can ask for clarification. Circulating summary meeting notes is always helpful.
  9. Offline discussions: Feel free to set aside particularly challenging situations and negative feedback for a separate, private discussion, at which time it can be addressed more appropriately.

Also read: 7 Simple Meeting Upgrades Every HR Should Know

Image credit: entrepreneur.com

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