How Virtual Teams Thrive


These days, we can work from pretty much anywhere. We chat, email, and video call our way through tasks, rather than interacting face to face.  With teams spread across the globe, work appears to be moving in this general direction, yet work in virtual teams poses different challenges.

How do the dynamics of virtual teams differ from those in person? And how can your virtual team develop the right rhythm to work successfully?

The dynamics of virtual teams

Our new ability to work from anywhere has changed the way we work in teams – we sometimes have very little to work with when it comes to really knowing our teammates.

Researchers have argued that, in comparison to traditional teams, virtual teams miss out on critical moments in group development. Often, in our virtual meetings, things are task-based: “Who has done this?  What’s next?  What are we missing?”  The need to balance multiple voices, account for technological delays, and maintain focus means that those flexibile moments, where discussion, personal connection, and questioning take place, are lost.  Without personal connection and healthy dialogue, important group development components like trust and group identity are harder to develop and manage. While this means that our tasks get done, we often sacrifice creativity and innovation.

In a recent study on virtual teams, researchers found that individuals often simplified their communication network to be more efficient, and developed trust on a team by being able to quickly complete the task at hand. During a timed task members of a virtual team indicated their own feelings about the group’s readiness to continue and their agreement as a team. Several teams had to complete a timed task, using only chat and email to communicate. By observing team interactions, they were able to see how quickly teams worked, and identified what got in the way. In addition to the development of trust through task completion, they also found that the prospect of working together in the future increased individual’s commitment to their teams.

Takeaway for your practice: Working Successfully in Your Virtual Teams

The plain truth is that virtual teams simply don’t have the same opportunities to develop in a way that in person teams do. As a result, trust, commitment, and belonging often come from the most objective, observable aspects of teamwork: commitment to a team goal, the ability to work efficiently, and a clear mode for communication. To do this, virtual teams need clear parameters to give structure and predictability to their work. Here are a few tips to give your virtual team the environment it needs to feel comfortable, efficient, and committed:

  • Focus on efficiency first: giving virtual teams a structure creates norms that allow for innovation later on.
  •  Avoid the temptation to bounce around! Give clear, specific goals and roles to a virtual project team and stick to the task at hand. This focuses commitment and gives your team a sense of identity.
  •  Give virtual team members the opportunity to work together again – trust and relationships will develop over time.
  •  Elect one team member as a communication synthesizer. This helps mitigate some of the confusion and long streams of email threads that often throw teams off.
  • Once a clear structure is established, build in deliberate touch points: set up video chat, emails, or a group chat to get to know one another, check in on goal progress, or coordinate and clarify.


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Haines, R. (2014) “Group development in virtual teams: an experimental reexamination.” Computers in Human Behavior 39. 213-222.  

You can find the original article here!

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