What are the unique challenges to managing a virtual team?

Essay by smarUniversity, Master'sA+, February 2006

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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...