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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Can virtual teams outperform traditional teams?

Can virtual teams outperform traditional teams?


As you may know, has offices in the USA, Canada, and New Zealand.  Our company is organized by functional teams – comprising staff members who work together on a daily basis, across multiple time zones, mostly with colleagues they have never actually met face to face.  And here’s the thing, they may never get to meet face to face! 

Likewise in our work with clients.  We have clients we have worked with virtually for several years now, that we have never met face to face!

A few years ago, these types of working relationships would have seemed strange, but now, thanks to a combination of web conferencing technology and business execution software, this style of working feels very normal to us.

Increasingly, these types of working relationships are becoming the norm for our client firms too.  More and more companies are forming virtual teams with staff (and external contractors) who reside in different locations to collaborate on projects. Some of these teams last only for the duration of the project, while others are more permanent in nature.

The notion of staff being forced to all work out of the same office and to work the same business hours makes less and less sense – and the future implications for office space requirements and working environments are profound.

In the past, it was thought that you need to work face to face in order to create highly productive teams – but is that still true?  I came across a study of 80 firms showing that virtual teams can be highly effective, even when individual members have never met in person, and they can even outperform traditional teams.

Key advantages of working face to face:

  • Frequent informal face to face communication helps to strengthen social bonds and build trust
  • Can directly observe and read our colleagues’ emotional states

Key advantages of virtual teams:

  • Assemble people with the best expertise for the job, regardless of location
  • Geographically dispersed teams tend to have divergent viewpoints – reducing “group think”, leading to higher quality problem solving and decision making

The research showed that virtual teams can indeed outperform local teams - provided they are set up and managed in the right way.  You can’t just assemble a dispersed team of talented people and hope for the best.   
How to create highly productive virtual teams:

  • Shared commitment to group goals
  • Awareness and appreciation of cultural differences
  • “Global culture” – create a sense of belonging to the virtual team, not just the local office
  • Disciplined meeting cadence with high quality communications
  • People encouraged to share personal communications as well – e.g. what’s going on in their lives
  • Solid business execution practices to make performance visible, and drive progress
  • Each team member held firmly accountable for results

Business execution software helps firms like us to create and manage highly productive teams.  You don’t need to have virtual teams to experience the benefits of using such tools either.  Even your face to face teams will benefit from implementing a disciplined business execution system! 
Chief Operating Officer - Global Operations -

Can virtual teams outperform traditional teams?

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