Practical strategies for successful collaboration in virtual international teams

According to a recent study, 67 percent of managers find that their virtual teams perform worse than comparable local teams. A mere ten percent of respondents attributed outstanding performance to their virtual work groups. Insights can be gleaned from both sides, which is why we looked more closely at practical examples and derived findings from them.

Our article reveals how you can get your virtual international teams working at their true peak performance without sacrificing enjoyment in the actual tasks at hand.

The practical study mentioned above and its subsequent scientific evaluation revealed a total of 20 factors responsible for the success or failure of virtual international teams. Here we’ll introduce you to seven of these 20 factors in a short overview. We’d also like to invite you to think about your own location-spanning teams while reading and to compare the success factors listed here with your personal [virtual] work environment.

success factors – part I

Feedback skills: Conflicts can only be avoided when negative aspects are communicated as well. A failure to confront conflicts will almost always lead to escalation sooner or later. To that end, you should know how to give feedback in a conflict-free manner, and you should establish common feedback guidelines to be observed by everyone. In a virtual space, it’s much easier for people to avoid others with whom they have problems due to conflicts. This is one of the reasons why good feedback culture is even more important in virtual teams than in purely local teams.

Workflow integration: All locations should have the same IT systems and software versions in order to avoid interfacing problems and so that no location feels disadvantaged. This success factor sounds logical, but in our experience, it regrettably doesn’t go without saying.

Global netiquette skills: There are certain etiquette rules that need to be clarified in order for efficiency to prevail. For instance, who calls whom back when a call is interrupted? Are thanks required for sending a document via e-mail? Who should be put in carbon copy, and when?

Time investment: A study from Cummings and Haas has shown that people have to invest more than 40 percent of their time in a project to really feel attached to it. This is important because without the feeling of attachment, there won’t be any team spirit, enthusiasm or perfect results. The leader of the virtual team has to demand this time from the team members’ local supervisors. If employees can only invest less than 40 percent of their work time, they need to be replaced or only called in occasionally as external experts in a consulting role. This will also avoid the arousal of envy within the team à la “Colleague X invests much less time than I do, so why should I get more involved?”

success factors – part 2

Cultural differences: Knowledge about cultural differences and preferences is especially important for the success of virtual international teams. For instance, every team member should be mindful of characteristics related to direct/indirect communication, relationship orientations and hierarchies in order to build bridges between employees and supervisors.

Agreeing upon work styles: The team should definitively decide together how work should be done. Without common work standards, efficient work will only occur by chance. For instance, you should define how the group understands decisions: Are they fixed, or can they be changed later? Also talk about what meetings are for: Are they for socializing, making decisions or simply holding discussions? The more you stipulate together, the fewer conflicts you’ll have and the less time will be lost.

Shared leadership: To bolster attachment to the team/project, responsibility for individual sub-tasks should be delegated to different people. The more responsibility a team member takes on, the more committed he or she will be to a project. This also relieves the team leader’s load. Another advantage could be that the person who takes responsibility for a sub-task is on site with the team members who carry it out. This would give the “primary” manager better control than he or she would have from a distance.

tips, tricks and strategies

As you can see, there are certain aspects that need to be kept in mind when you’re working in a virtual international team. More exciting tips can be found in our trainings for virtual work groups and our global leadership program.

About Markus Eidam

Nach meinem insgesamt vierjährigen Aufenthalt in verschiedenen Ländern dieser Welt bin ich seit dem Jahr 2004 Geschäftsführer bei den Auslands-Experten von Eidam & Partner. In jüngeren Jahren habe ich Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Erwachsenenbildung und Psychologie studiert und mich zum Trainer, Coach und Personalfachwirt der IHK ausbilden lassen. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 80 Zielländern.
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