DIRECTIONS: The following case study reinforces the theory on work teams and groups. Read the case carefully and respond to the questions for discussion. A summary of the case should be the opening for each question. In the response you must number and type each question and then provide your answer. Use the essay method rather than the report method. Your response must provide rationale for your answer and should demonstrate an understanding of the case. All sources must be cited in the body and Reference page. Use good paragraph development with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Must be written in a Word document and cited in APA format.
CASE STUDY: WORK TEAMS AND GROUPS
Achieving Success in Virtual Teams
“Harnessing the power of virtual worlds is now a necessity as industry penetrates every comer of our planet and workers are required to be in touch with teammates on the next block and on distant continents at any time. In most companies, participating in virtual teams is no longer an exotic exercise, but a bottom-line requirement.”[i]
“Often widely separated geographically and located in distant time zones, virtual teams are frequently composed of members from different cultures who work in different organizations with unfamiliar standards and models of behavior.”[ii] Members of virtual teams most likely have never met each other in person.[iii]
NetAge, a company that provides consulting services for networked organizations, maintains that the secret to successful virtual teams is 10 percent technology and 90 percent people.[iv] Likewise the failure of virtual teams is largely due to people. The substantial role of people in the success of virtual teams prompts the question: What are some human factors that contribute to the success of virtual teams, and what are some human factors that contribute to the failure of virtual teams?
Virtual teams require interdependent work relationships. “Interdependent work teams share common goals and responsibilities; at the same time, the team members are self-reliant and self-motivated.”[v] Effective virtual collaboration requires an understanding of people, cultures, and organizations.[vi] Employees who can tolerate or even relish ambiguity in their job responsibilities tend to function well in virtual teams, whereas employees “who like regimented schedules and concrete instructions on how to do their jobs won’t perform as well in virtual work settings.”[vii]
Two very key human factors that determine the success or failure of virtual teams are communication effectiveness and stimulating work.
When it comes to communications in virtual team settings, ambiguity increases the chances of failure and clarity of communication contributes to success. “Employees must write well to draft easy-to-understand and to-the-point communications. Ambiguity can be a detriment because the way virtual workers write and comprehend written communications can alter meaning and generate unneeded tension among team members and managers.”[viii] As Joseph Grenny, writing in Leadership Excellence, observes: “The challenge [that] virtual teams face is productively brainstorming ideas, solving problems, and executing on projects with people whose physical location ¾ not to mention specialty, and in some cases, culture ¾ makes it difficult to freely and clearly speak one’s mind.”[ix]
Reporting in The Wall Street Journal, Lynda Gratton observes that the work of virtual teams is frequently unsupervised and consequently team members’ tasks should be challenging and stimulating. Otherwise, disinterest could cause the virtual team to disintegrate.[x] When team members do not experience the work as stimulating and challenging, “[t]hey simply fade away, with fewer and fewer dialing into the weekly conference calls or posting ideas on the shared site. It’s not that the members don’t like one another. It’s simply that the atmosphere becomes more like a country club than a dynamic collection of inspired people.”[xi]
Volvo is one company that has taken the issues of communication effectiveness and stimulating work to heart in working toward making its virtual teams as effective as possible.[xii] With a very significant global footprint of manufacturing in 19 countries and sales in 180 countries, and 120,000 employees with half of those being information workers, the Volvo Information Technology (VIT) unit seeks to support team effectiveness around the world.[xiii] The mission for improving the effectiveness of the company’s virtual teams is to “[a]ssist teams with establishing effective ways of communicating and collaborating to reach business objectives.”[xiv]
Volvo evaluates the effectiveness of its virtual teams with a variety of metrics in four major categories that can be framed in the form of the following four questions: “How aligned is the team’s understanding of goals, actions, and expected results? How familiar is the team with roles and responsibilities? How comfortable is the team with communicating internally? How clear are project timelines and milestones?”[xv]
At peak performance, Volvo’s virtual teams would be judged as having attained “shared accountability [and] shared leadership for achieving team objectives.”[xvi] Attaining this level of virtual team performance is possible only by having interesting work for the team members to do and effective communications among them.
- Describe the attributes that contribute to the success of virtual teams and those that contribute to the failure of virtual teams.
- Explain how cultural diversity can affect the functioning of virtual teams operating in a global economy.
- Explain how group behavior can be different for virtual teams.
- Is Volvo’s approach to evaluating the effectiveness of its virtual teams one that could serve as a useful model for other organizations to follow in evaluating their own virtual organizations? Justify your answer.