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What Are The Unique Challenges To Managing A Virtual Team?

1745 words - 7 pages

Virtual teams represent the next stage in the evolution of corporate organisations. Globalisation, downsizing, more flexible working practices and rapid advances in information technology has allowed and accelerated the need for businesses to span geographical and organisational boundaries (Merrick, 1996). A study of the meaning and characteristics of virtual teams shows how they meet the needs and challenges of this new workplace. However, the emergence of virtual teams radically alters the way organisations work and communicate. Virtual team management faces several new and complex challenges in overcoming time, distance and cultural boundaries, in building trust, collaboration and team cohesion, in supporting and controlling team processes and outputs, and adapting to technology driven communication.Virtual teams "are composed of employees, with unique skills, located at a distance from each other, who must collaborate to accomplish important organizational tasks" (Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk & McPherson, 2002, p. 67). Tasks are co-ordinated across time zones, physical, cultural and organisational boundaries. These boundaries are the basis of the definition of a virtual team, and are also the basis for the unique challenges of managing a virtual team. Time and distance variation between team members can cause significant delays in information processing, especially when members work in opposite time zones so there is only a small or no window of real-time contact opportunity. This may frustrate team members who cannot proceed without a colleague's response or deliverable, thus causing further delays (Joinson, 2002). Culture is another significant boundary. Culture may be of national, organisational or functional derivation. This will affect the business practice, ethics, expectations and behaviour of team members (Duarte & Tennant Snyder, 1999). If the work habits of an individual are noticeably differing from others in the team because of their national culture, it may be a challenge for management to alter or integrate these ways so they will be appropriate to the team's performance and processes. There may also be uncertainty as to whether the performance of the individual is actually culturally based or whether it stems from task misunderstanding, equipment deficiency, or simply poor performance. Management may initially attribute the performance to cultural differences as they are wary of 'pointing the finger' in case of offending the individual, before the actual cause is exposed. This can cause major delays, as tasks are not completed satisfactorily or on time.These boundaries can be overcome or at least somewhat alleviated by effective communication and by using the technologies available. However misunderstandings can still result from using these resources. Because a virtual team does not work in the same immediate environment and members may not share the same backgrounds, personalities, cultures, and languages,...

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