With the advent of an increasingly global work environment, teams are now able to work together, even without having physically met before. Virtual teams are difficult to manage due to the need to navigate many different types of distance, such as geographic, temporal, cultural and linguistic.
Every one of these dimensions affects team dynamics and, therefore, has an impact on effectiveness and performance as well. There are numerous problems associated with distance.
In 1964, psychologist, Bruce Tuckman developed the Stages of Team Development model. The model explains how a team develops over time, which consists of 4 key stages, “forming, storming, norming and performing”. Tuckman believes that all phases are both essential and inevitable for team growth. A virtual team will often struggle with these stages due to distance, however it the manager’s job to assist the team in adapting, in order to create a high-performing team.
Description of Stage: Team members get to know each other, exchange information about themselves and the task at hand, establish trust among group members and clarify group goals and expectations.
Challenge to Virtual Teams: Fewer opportunities for informal work- and non-work-related conversations; risk of making erroneous stereotypes in the absence of complete information; trust is lower and more difficult to develop.
Potential Solutions: Set specific times purely for teams to get to know each other over a shared video digital platform; ensure the project requirements are very clearly defined.
Description of Stage: Similarities and differences are revealed and conflicts surface as the group attempts to identify appropriate roles and responsibilities among the members.
Challenge to Virtual Teams: Reliance on less rich communication channels may exacerbate conflicts by provoking misunderstandings; ease of withdrawing behaviours; diversity of work contexts.
Potential Solutions: Request and accept feedback throughout the team, define rules of engagement, such as agreeing on mutual times to discuss things as a group.
Description of Stage: Team members recognise and agree on ways of sharing information and working together; relationships are strengthened, and team members agree on a team strategy.
Challenge to Virtual Teams: Difficulty in developing norms around modes of communication, speed, and frequency of responding.
Potential Solutions: Assist in creating a written document that has all the group norms (modes of communication, speed, and frequency of responding).
Description of Stage: Team members work toward project completion, actively helping and encouraging each other.
Challenge to Virtual Teams: Vulnerability to competing pressures from local assignments, frustrations over loafing or non-committed teammates, and communication discontinuities due to asynchronous communication.
Potential Solutions: In order to ensure that team members share a common focus communicate effectively, schedule regular check-ins whereby people have to share status updates of how far they are.
Corbitt, G., Gardiner, L.R., & Wright, L.K. (2004). A Comparison of Team Developmental Stages, Trust and Performance for Virtual versus Face-to-Face Teams. Proceedings of the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings/hicss/2004/2056/01/205610042b.pdf.
Furrst-Holloway, S., Reeves, M., Rosen, B., & Blackburn, R. (2004). Managing the life cycle of virtual teams. Academy of Management Executive, 18(2), 6-20.
Hays, K. (2017). Adapting Tuckman’s Model for Global Virtual Teams. Retrieved from http://blog.insynctraining.com/adapting-tuckmans-model-for-global-virtual-teams.
Mortenson, M. (2015). A First-Time Manager’s Guide to Leading Virtual Teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/09/a-first-time-managers-guide-to-leading-virtual-teams.
Warren, A. (2017). In-Depth Look at Tuckman’s Ladder and Subsequent Works as a Tool for Managing a Project Team. The SANS Institute. Retrieved https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/bestprac/in-depth-tuckman-039-s-ladder-subsequent-works-tool-managing-project-team-37662.