Structuring Virtual Teams
The inception of technology, such as the Internet has seen the management of organizations through virtual teams surpass that which leverages on face-to-face teams. Organizational management through virtual teams is not only less costly but also less time consuming given that stakeholders do not have to move from one place to another to attend organizational meetings (Hirschy, 2011). With these perspectives in mind, virtual teams constitute members who are geographically distributed and, thus, their cooperation and working together are dependent on the use of electronic communication devices. For virtual teams, there are either no or minimal face-to-face interactions, and this is underlined by the fact that the members are geographically distributed. However, one of the challenges facing virtual teams is the difficulty to balance between togetherness and apartness. The problem has resulted in more questions than answers about how the work in virtual teams is designed and how the leadership in the groups is handled.
Options for Work Design and Leadership of Virtual Teams
Work design is not only a matter of concern in face-to-face teams but also in virtual teams. Work design is concerned with how a given team, in this case virtual, moves through various problem-solving stages (Basadur, 1995). There are three options for work design in virtual teams, and these include wheel design, modular design, and the iterative approach. In the wheel design, the leader of the virtual team has the obligation of communicating with all the members of the team. However, there is minimal communication among the members of the team. The design is essential in situations where the process of decision making is centralized or where the leadership is permanent. Besides, the design is useful to virtual teams with little task interdependence and whose members have high trust with the leadership in place and specialized expertise. The commonly used design in teams, both virtual and face-to-face, is the modular design. In this design, it is mandatory for the team members to meet and make decisions regarding the goals or tasks at hand. This is then succeeded by the parceling out of work to individual team members, after which the team meets again with the objective of assembling the pieces. The modular design is advantageous and preferable because there is a possibility of the team’s task being broken down. Besides, there is a clear definition of roles and responsibilities, and there is no need for extensive cooperation among the members or feedback. Moreover, the preference of this design by several virtual teams is underscored by the facts that technology supports the exchange of work; only one person has the responsibility of assembling all the pieces, and there are democratic decision-making and accountability standards. The final option for work design in virtual teams is the iterative approach where work is drafted, presented to the team, feedback is given, and the work is redrafted, presented again, and followed by more feedback. There are prerequisites for the approach, and these include the interaction of tasks, time sufficiency, the willingness to accept input and cooperate, honesty, a technology of work-sharing, and open communication systems and norms (Basadur, 1995).
Other than the options for work design, there are options for leadership in virtual teams. One of the options is permanent leadership, and this is associated with centralized decision making and a high degree of role differentiation. For this option, the role of the leader is to integrate all work, and this is coupled with a high interaction between the leader and the members of the team. This option is also characterized by low interdependence, and this is because there is minimal interaction between individual team members. Another option for leadership in virtual teams is rotational leadership characterized by the alternation of team members with the aim of playing various leadership roles. Other characteristics of this option are a flat hierarchy, high trust among the team members, equal leadership abilities, low ego, standardized procedures and templates that ensure consistency, stability, and small size. The other leadership option for virtual teams is facilitation or coordination that is characterized by the fact that no individual carries formal authority over the tasks of the team or product. Moreover, this option stresses the self-management of teams although additional support, such as leading meetings, tech support, and scheduling is needed (Aperian Global, 2012). The facilitator or coordinator must exhibit strong interpersonal, conflict solution, as well as decision-making skills. Virtual teams leverage on the leaderless option. This option is characterized by the fact that the members of the team are self-managed. Besides, the team members have the same status, equal division of responsibilities, and there is clarity when it comes to roles. Other characteristics of the leaderless option are that decision-making is democratic, power resides in expertise, and the team members share outcomes and have high trust in one another.
How Team Characteristics and Task Requirements Affect Choice of Work Design and Leadership
Irrefutably, task requirements and team characteristics affect the choices of work design and leadership. For instance, a team characterized by the minimal interaction of the members will be forced to choose permanent leadership. This is because with permanent leadership, decision-making processes and other roles are centralized, and thus, the minimal interaction of the individual team members is upheld (Malhotra et al., 2007). Similarly, a team could have task requirements that influence the breaking down of tasks to individual team members, and thus, the perfect work design in such a situation is the modular design.
Effectiveness of Virtual Team Leadership Practices
Various leadership practices are fundamental in virtual teaming. The practices include the establishment and maintenance of trust through the use of communication technology, ensuring that there are an understanding and appreciation of the aspect of distributed diversity, management of virtual work-life cycle, monitoring of the progress of the team using technology, enhancement of visibility of virtual members both outside and within the team, and enabling individual members of the team to be beneficiaries of the team’s tasks. The effectiveness of these practices for virtual teaming cannot be doubted because they have been fundamental in the establishment of foundations for training and developing virtual team leaders of future generations (Malhotra et a., 2007).
In conclusion, virtual teaming has been phenomenal in organizational management. The success of virtual teams is determined by the existing options for work design including wheel design, modular design, iterative approach, and leadership options, such as permanent, rotational, leaderless, and facilitation. Moreover, as seen above, virtual team’s choices of work design and leadership are significantly affected by existing task requirements and team characteristics. The leadership practices in virtual learning, such as the establishment and maintenance of trust through the use of communication of technology and others are efficient. This is evident in the fact that they have provided platforms for the development and training of future virtual team leaders.
Aperian Global. (2012). Leveraging Diversity for Creative Solutions: Leadership Best Practices For Virtual Collaboration. Aperian Global. Retrieved from: http://aperianglobal.com/newsletter_archive/publications_newsletter046.asp
Basadur, M. (1995). The power of innovation: How to make innovation a way of life and put creative solutions to work. London: Pitman.
Hirschy, M. J. (2011). Virtual team leadership: A case study in Christian higher education. Christian Higher Education, 10(2), 97-111.
Malhotra, A., Majchrzak, A., & Rosen, B. (2007). Leading virtual teams. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(1), 60-70.