How to succeed in virtual collaborations
Nowadays nearly every company uses daily virtual collaboration tools, such as Skype and Outlook. These tools can be used to share knowledge and information across departments and countries as well as between different team members.
Often the team members are located in different regions. Due to this, they cannot use physical communication and are therefore limited to relying on technological tools.
However, studies show that virtual teams enable organizations to be more flexible, adaptive and to make use of the knowledge of different employees, regardless of their location and expertise (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002, pp. 22-23).
Based on the aspect of communication, virtual teams are more technologically mediated, whereas in traditional teams the function of technology is rather supplemental, as they rely primarily on face-to-face contact. According to research in the field, low complexity tasks proved successful as performed by both face-to-face and technology mediated teams. In contrast, when dealing with high complexity tasks, the conventional face-to-face teams often outperformed the computer based ones (Straus & McGrath, 1994, p. 94).
But are there any critical success factors in virtual collaborations?
According to DeRosa (2011, pp. 43-54) who conducted a research within 48 different virtual teams, the following 11 factors and practices resulted as crucial for the team’s success:
• Team composition: stable and consistent team membership, fewer team members, same or similar function, participation in fewer teams, longer tenure
• Communication: proactive, face-to-face kick off meeting, more frequent meetings, quick response to problems, defined process for decision making and problem solving, leverage technology usage
• Training: skill training provision, creation and implementation of systems for sharing knowledge across functions and organizations, access to online training and support
• Leadership: the skill to lead from a distance, team members’ willingness to take leader responsibilities, direct reporting relationship to the team leader
• Motivation: willingness to put in additional effort, initiative demonstration
• Interpersonal relationships: trust between one another and different cultures, appropriate handling of conflicts
• Collaboration: set common goals, help each other achieve them
• Initiative: engaged team members, role clarity and motivation by team success
• Clarity: how team work contributes to the organization’s strategy
• Feedback: timely and regularly
• Trust: between each other and that everyone will do their job
Fine, can you sum it up in one illustration?
Yes, in simple words the picture below represents the Media Richness Theory based on the principle that simply structured tasks are tackled with “simple” media, whereas the complex ones with “rich” media (Herrmann, Hüneke, & Rohrberg, 2006, p. 77):
The image above serves to emphasize that if you want to succeed in virtual collaboration, it is crucial to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the tools used. This enables you to make a decision when E-mail writing, Skyping or face-to-face meeting is better.
The study was conducted by Veselina Ashminova, M.A in International Product and Service Management at the Ansbach University of Applied Sciences.
Bell, B. S., & Kozlowski, S. W. (2002, March). A typology of virtual teams: implications for effective leadership. Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 14-49.
DeRosa, D. (2011). Collaborating from a distance: success factors of top-performing virtual teams. International Journal of e-Collaboration, 7(3), 43-54.
Herrmann, D., Hüneke, K., & Rohrberg, A. (2006). Führung auf Distanz: Mit virtuellen Teams zum Erfolg. Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag.
Straus, S. G., & McGrath, J. E. (1994). Does the medium matter? The interaction of task type and technology on group performance and member reactions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(1), 87-97. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8200874