Group Work and Virtual Team Development

Introduction

The modern business enterprise is faced with very many challenges regarding the accessing and sharing of information. This is particularly enhanced if the organization does business on a global scale. The organization needs to create a team that will coordinate the activities of the organization. These members may be located in different parts of the world. Therefore the sharing of different ideas becomes a very important aspect of the success of the business enterprise. This is usually done by virtual teams that are usually entitled to the performance of a specific task.

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Virtual teams can be defined as a group of people, who are generally geographically separated, share ideas, and perceive themselves, and are also perceived by others to a close-knit social system within an organization.

The main features of virtual teams are the fact that they are geographically apart and mainly use technological devices to facilitate their communication. To facilitate the working of the virtual teams, organizations must therefore provide the necessary technology to facilitate communication and sharing of ideas.

Virtual teams help reduce the overall costs of the company regarding the transport expenses of the members of the virtual teams. This is because technology facilitates the sharing of ideas without the need of having to move from one place to the other (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997, p 1). The communication technologies, which virtual teams use, range from simple communication equipment such as telephone and faxes to complex equipment such as video conferencing tools (Gibson and Cohen 2003 p 4).

Virtual teams also help reduce the barrier placed by time on the effective performance of the business enterprise. The members of the virtual teams can share information 24 hours a day due to the different time zones of the members of the virtual teams. This is unlike the conventional methods where the worker only works for 8 hours a day (Kimble, Alexis, and Li, 2000, p 5). Hence overcoming the time limit of the business enterprise increases the output of the organization.

The main stages in the life cycle of the virtual group are:

  • Initiation: this refers to the stage where the group is formed. Here the members are not familiar with one another. The main objectives of the virtual group are set out here. The ground rules are also set at the stage (Sarker and Sahay, 2003, p 20)
  • Exploration: this refers to the stage where the members start to interact with another and share different ideas that are important for successful outcomes. Here the members come up with different strategies to help the virtual group (Sarker and Sahay, 2003, p 21).
  • Collaboration: in this stage, the members see themselves as socially connected. They, therefore, have deeply engrossed in the issues of the virtual teams. At this stage, the virtual groups are mutually integrated and the members can be said to work towards a specific goal (Sarker and Sahay, 2003 p 23).
  • Termination: This is the stage where the virtual group is dissolved. The members usually present their findings to the concerned parties (Sarker and Sahay, 2003, p 24).

For an efficient virtual team, there must be teamwork among the group members. The main features of an effective virtual team which leads to team development are:

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  • Setting ground rules
  • Trust and identity
  • Shared understanding
  • Integration

Setting ground rules

This is the first and the most important factor to consider when a virtual team is being set up. The ground rules dictate how the members are supposed to act during the course of the virtual team’s existence. It also seeks to bring to the attention important aspects of the virtual group.

The ground rules help in averting any future problems which the virtual team may encounter. The tone that is set during the creation of the ground rules usually determines how the members of the virtual team will view the virtual team. The ground rules are usually contributed by all the members of the virtual team. Some organizations facilitate the geographical meeting of the members of the virtual team during the creation of the virtual team to make the members be familiar with one another and initiate their bonding (Nemiro, et al, 2008, p 88). This enables the members to effectively work together.

During the setting of the ground rules, the virtual group leader ascertains his leadership abilities. This helps in commanding the respect of the leader and the decision he takes. However, in some groups, there is no designated group leader. In this case, the organization which is facilitating the virtual groups sets the tone for the performance of the virtual group. In such a case the individual members of the virtual group take turns leading the group at certain periods hence enabling them to be integrated into the virtual team.

Trust and identity

In any group of an organization, the issue of trust is a very vital element for the success or failure of the group. Identity enables individual members of an organization to know what to tell other members since they know their required response. However, the identity of individuals in virtual teams is vague (Kimble, Alexis, and Li, 2000, p 5).

Trust is a very important value of any group. Not just a virtual team but also other teams. The success or failure of the virtual teams is largely dependent on trust between different members of the virtual team. However, this value is harder to achieve than in groups where there is a face to face interaction. Trust is required in all the stages of the team’s existence. Trust is usually required when a group is being set up.

Trust enables the members of the group to begin their work effectively. Trust is also required during the team’s existence to ensure it achieves its specific objective. When the virtual team achieves its objects and it is finally dissolved, it leaves a legacy of trust hence putting a bar, which the preceding teams will have to emulate (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997, p 225). However, trust is usually developed due to the first impression a person has of the other person who they are in communication with. The first messages usually determine the way the preceding information will be conveyed and the trust levels (Kimble, Alexis, and Li, 200 p 6). Trust helps the team members to bond easily, have efficient organization and self-management hence enabling them to achieve the required results faster.

However, trust can easily be diminished by members of the virtual team or the organization treating certain members of the virtual team as unequal to the other members of the virtual team. Some members may also refuse or forget to share certain vital information with the other members. Using certain information provided by or to the virtual teams in a way that is not suitable can also lead to a reduction in the trust of the members of virtual teams (Duarte and Snyder, 2006, p 11).

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Due to the fact that the members of a virtual team may come from a different organization, some of the members of the virtual team may be unwilling to share information regarding some undertaking by their firm, which is incomplete but relevant to the activities of the virtual team. This denies not only the members of the virtual team’s very important information but also the concerned organization improvements or insights that would have helped it greatly. This may ultimately lead to the disbanding of the virtual team since they would not be able to work effectively.

Shared understanding

Shared understanding refers to the way the team arranges and coordinates information, which is relevant to the team’s ability to work efficiently (Gibson and Cohen, 2003, p 21). When a team has a shared understanding the members are able to anticipate certain occurrences based on the behavior of certain members of the team or the behavior of the team in general. This ensures that they take the appropriate steps based on the actions and behaviors without having to check on what the other members are doing since they know exactly what they are doing. This ensures that the members use the resources made available by the company more efficiently.

Shared understanding also reduces the wrangling of the team members. It also guarantees better results will be achieved at a short duration of time due to the maximization of each member’s ability (Gibson and Cohen, 2003, p 23).

Several factors usually lead to shared understanding. Shared understanding may develop due to the members having backgrounds that are quite similar. It may also develop due to the members having shred the same experiences. This helps relate easily with the other members who had such an experience. Shared understanding can also develop with time as the members learn about one another while performing their specific tasks in the group (Gibson and Cohen, 2003, p 24).

For an ideal virtual group, the shared understanding of the team members should gradually improve with time as the members continue to know each other slowly.

Integration

Integration is another virtue of efficient virtual groups. This is necessitated by the fact that the members of the virtual team may not come from the same functional areas of an organization. The members may also come from different organizations, which have different organizational cultures (Duarte and Snyder, 2006, p 5). The virtual team members may also be using different technologies or software hence the team requires the integration of all the software to facilitate efficient communication (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997, p 181).

Due to the fact that the members of the virtual teams may come from different geographical locations the virtual team needs to integrate their cultures into the working of the virtual team failure to which the members may feel offended and hence lead to disagreements in the virtual team which only lead to reduced productivity.

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Some virtual teams also facilitate the entry and leaving of the individual members of the team. These members may come up with new ideas and information, which will help in enriching the team. Therefore, the virtual team must devise mechanisms of integrating the new members to harness the knowledge that they have.

Failure of the virtual team to come up with methods of integrating the different members of the team will limit the individual capabilities of the members. This makes them not work effectively hence leading to failure to achieve the desired objectives or results for the virtual team. This may pose great challenges if the virtual team Integration provides the necessary mechanisms to enable the efficient working of the systems.

Conclusion

Most people think that the barriers posed by technology are the main hindrance to the success of virtual teams and virtual team development. Most companies have put much emphasis on the provision of the technological infrastructure which the virtual teams require but have neglected the main factors which lead to the success of the virtual teams. This has led to the failure of various virtual teams due to problems that could have been avoided. However, as explained above barriers to lack of efficient technological infrastructure is just but one of the factors which may lead to the failure of virtual teams.

All the above factors help in improving the efficiency of the virtual teams. Virtual team leaders or organizations should ensure that the prescribed measures are adhered to. This would ensure that virtual teams produce suitable results. In addition, this would enable the virtual teams to achieve the results faster hence saving on the time spent and most definitely the resources which the virtual teams use in accomplishing their task.

References

Duarte, D.L. and Snyder, N.T. (2006). Mastering virtual teams: Strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed. CA: John Wiley and Sons. Web.

Gibson, C.B. and Cohen S.G. (2003). Virtual teams that work: creating conditions for virtual team effectiveness, CA, John Wiley and Sons. Web.

Kimble, C. Alexis, B. and Li, F. (2000). Effective Virtual Teams through Communities of Practice. Strathclyde Business School Management Science Working Paper No. 2000/9. Web.

Lipnack, J. and Stamps, J. (1997). Virtual teams: reaching across space, time, and organizations with technology. NY: John Wiley & sons. Web.

Nemiro, J., Beyerlein, M.M., Bradley, L. and Beyerlein S. (2008). The handbook of high-performance virtual teams: a toolkit for collaborating across boundaries. CA: John Wiley and Sons.

Sarker, S. and Sahay, S. (2003). Understanding virtual team development: an interpretive study. Journal of the Association for Information Systems. Web.

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