There is an increasing trend for business organizations to increase their utilization of virtual teams. This is a progressive step towards enhancing their competitive advantage in the global market. Organizations are shifting towards the use of virtual teams to eliminate the barriers of geographic distances. The use of virtual work arrangements has spurred interest in understanding the stages of their development and the collaboration between team members in order to achieve common goals. With improvements and changes in global economy, business executives are reconsidering traditional practices. Technological communications, such as video conferencing and synchronous communication, have added a personal touch to managing virtual employees. The reality of virtual team work has continued to reshape business environments. It is now possible for employees to work from different geographic locations with shared responsibilities for the outcomes.
At their core virtual teams should embody the best practices that characterize traditional teams, including the forming stage. However, the development of virtual teams differs significantly from the traditional approach (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010). In its simplest form, a virtual team appears as a group of individuals working independently in different sites using technology. Further, virtual work arrangements differ from traditional teams on the basis of their composition, use of technology and the role of social presence (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010), which are particularly important at the forming stage. In other words, the adoption of virtual team setup involves creating an effective communication flow, building and maintaining collaborative teams, and changing the styles of leadership at the forming stage.
Both team types share many qualities. However, there are fundamental differences, which may cause the forming stage to freese (Zofi, 2011). For instance, due to the dispersed membership and technological environment, members of virtual teams need to possess a higher tolerance for the unexpected situations. Secondly, virtual team members are not physically present and, therefore, they are not as accountable as the traditional teams (Zofi, 2011). Ideally, virtual teams at the storming stage must be self-sufficient, reliable and ready to communicate. In addition, they must be motivated to allow participation and goal-sharing in order to proceed to the norming stage.
At the norming stage, work arrangements should exhibit a highly diverse set of possible configurations to respond to specific needs of the organizations. Traditional teams have a lifecycle (Zofi, 2011). Team members are chosen based on the various criteria. They come together and grow to recognize each other’s work habits. Because of physical attachment, members bond as a group, overcome challenges together and eventually focus on accomplishing common goals. Virtual teams follow the same pattern, but the leadership roles are hindered by the lack of face-to-face interactions (Zofi, 2011). Even though traditional teams face cultural differences, they are minimized by other shared elements, such as corporate culture. On the other hand, cultural differences such as language barriers are more complex within the virtual teams. For this reason, reaching the norming phase is vital, since virtual team members are able to resolve their differences and continue to work productively as a group.
In some cases, the virtual work can be examined as an extension of traditional work. However, heavy reliance on information communication technology adds complexity on the path to the performing stage. Virtual arrangements require new ways of thinking about leadership, communication and teamwork in order to perform productively (Rigby, 2013). The virtual structure is less linear than the traditional one. Competence and swift acquisition of skills and information appear more salient for a virtual team than on-the-job socialization. In other words, the faster the newcomers learn their roles within virtual teams, the easier it will be for them to reach the needed performance level. Supervisors also focus on facilitating rather than traditional managerial command and control (Zofi, 2011). They are using communication technologies for monitoring the team’s performance. In addition, team leaders encourage participation and open communication by providing necessary resources for the team, such as training (Zofi, 2011). In reality, the process of developing the virtual teams should lead to a strong sense of loyalty and commitment both to the team and the organization. Only in such a way, the team will be able to track high performance levels.
Decision making within a traditional team environment can be faster when relying on shared experiences. On the contrary, for virtual teams to reach a consensus, the members follow a more complex process. In addition, both teams must deal with outside influences and changes that occur at the adjourning stage (Rigby, 2013). It is easier to spot these differences in traditional teams, because members are more attached. In the essence, outside forces tend to influence all members in the ordinary set-up. However, virtual team members may face many outside influences that are invisible to both the team leaders and members (Rigby, 2013). Moreover, work habits and messages are interpreted in a more literal sense due to lack of shared personal recollections.
Although the development of virtual teams has improved business activities, the changeover faces some obstacles. Firstly, the lack of physical contact reduces the chances for social interaction, which is conducive for group cohesiveness and, thus, affects performance levels. Therefore, there is higher levels of cohesiveness within the traditional teams than within the virtual ones (Zofi, 2011). Secondly, because the team members do not meet in a physical location, virtual teams find it much easier to communicate with other stakeholders, such as suppliers and customers. What is more, teams that work virtually have certain advantage over the traditional team. Logically, the teammates do not meet face to face, and a virtual team typically requires much less time commitment (Zofi, 2011). Moreover, employees can fulfill their responsibilities as team members without their physical presence that is typically required for the face-to-face meetings. However, there is a significant challenge that the members of the virtual team are facing. They must be flexible in order to be at the same pace with the advances in technology and communication (Rigby, 2013). Secondly, with the vis-a-vis meetings, members can interact with others easily because of immediate feedback. It is quite difficult to achieve feedback with such communication methods as teleconferencing. As a result, the cohesiveness among the team members may be jeopardized.
Virtual teams can be compared to traditional working arrangements to a large extent. They share similar responsibilities of adequate performance, information sharing and team building. However, virtual teams cannot develop a cohesive team without the mobilization of technological infrastructure (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010). Unlike in the ordinary field, these teams must invest in optimum communication channels that will handle barriers of real time processes. Moreover, non-verbal communication can lead to social conflicts and mistrust, especially due to misinterpretations. Often, such problems lead to lower performance levels. For the virtual teams to maintain cohesiveness, the leaders must invest in modern ICT tools that have sophisticated functionality (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010). Global virtual teams have to deal with the additional issues of communicating across different languages and cultures. The managers should ensure that there is continual learning, especially for the newcomers. In addition, discussion meetings are regularly held to foster participation of all members and establish a collaborative relationship.
In conclusion, the introduction of virtual team arrangement is characterized by collaboration with the help of technology. As a result, the participants who are not in the same locations can be present at important business meetings. However, due to the lack of physical attachment, there is less cohesiveness within the virtual teams. Therefore, compared to the traditional teams, the virtual groups have limited day-to-day social interactions Nevertheless, these teams have more opportunities than the traditional teams, for instance, mobility.