The New Dominance of Virtual BY DONNA DENNIS, PhD, MILES OVERHOLT, PhD, AND MARK VICKERS
Are virtual teams and their leaders really any different from traditional teams and their leaders? Yes, and those differences can have a major effect on the success of virtual teams and the organizations that use them. It’s hard to overstate the critical role that virtual teams are playing today. They are the new normal, according to a major study conducted by the Business Research Consortium (BRC) in association with American Management Association. In fact, they may well be the primary way that work gets prioritized and coordinated in the world today. Nine of 10 of the more than 1,500 survey participants said they had virtual teams in their organizations. Even more impressive, more than half had attended seven or more virtual meetings over the previous month, while slightly fewer than half had attended as many traditional, co-located (that is, occurring in one physical space) meetings. In short, virtual teams have become the team framework of the digital age, giving a company the means to blend the best talents and perspectives from anywhere in the organization. The BRC study shows that, when managed effectively, virtual teams increase productivity, help meet organizational goals, and improve the quality of work. But, to get the most out of virtual teams, leaders should understand the biggest challenges facing the teams and the key practices for overcoming those challenges.
THE EVOLUTION OF VIRTUAL TEAMS There is much to learn about virtual teams, but organizations do seem to have gotten better at leveraging them over the past decade or so. Ten years ago, research from Professors M. Hoegl and L. Proserpio showed that distance hurt performance. Dispersed teams often failed to perform important tasks effectively and were unable to realize their potential. Part of the problem was, and still is, poor virtual leadership. Back then, there seemed to have been an assumption that good leaders would just know how to transfer their conventional team skills to a virtual environment. In fact, a Society for Human Resource Management study in 2006 reported that 80% of respondents said special training was “not at all” a priority for virtual leaders. And that was despite research—published in 2005 in The Leadership Quarterly— showing that leaders working at a distance needed to work harder at relating to associates’ needs and aspirations to have the same level of positive impact that they would need close up. 18
American Management Association
MWORLD SUMMER 2014
The ABCDs of Trust from Ken Blanchard