Tag Archives: at-a-distance

Virtual Team Leadership

Virtual Team Leadership – Excel in Today’s Organization

by Mark Sivy

Virtual Leadership

Virtual LeadershipVirtual team leadership skills are a useful, if not necessary, asset that many leaders may overlook developing or may not effectively execute. The increased globalization of people, services and economic activity that is being facilitated by the rapid development of Internet communication and collaboration technologies has led to an exponential increase in the need for functional virtual teams and organizations (Caulat, 2006; Zhang, Fjermestad, & Tremaine, 2005). This encroachment of virtual activities into the workplace and markets necessitates that leaders understand and embrace it.

Perceptions of Leaders

Boje and Rhodes (2005) stated that due to mass media, leaders and leadership that are not directly seen can become virtualized and the virtual leader becomes a construct in the minds of those who follow or are impacted by the leader. To employees, clients, teachers, students, and other virtual community members who do not encounter a leader face-to-face, the leader takes on a distinct character based upon the information they receive. The online leader’s persona is created from the individual perceptions and interpretations of virtually exhibited leader variables such as mannerisms, gestures, tones, words, actions, reactions, and styles. For this reason, it is important for leaders to mitigate misperceptions and incorrect beliefs by being careful, clear, intentional and communicative.

Virtual Team

Challenges

Being perceived in a desired way can be made more intimidating by the fact that the virtual environment can be subject to the following unique barriers and challenges that have been identified by leaders of virtual teams (DeRosa 2009):

  1. Having infrequent face-to-face contact as a team
  2. Lacking necessary resources
  3. Building a collaborative atmosphere
  4. Lacking time to focus on leading the team
  5. Evolving and shifting team and organizational priorities
  6. Having more work than the team can handle
  7. Managing poor performers
  8. Experiencing situations in which team members can dedicate only a portion of their time to the team (p. 10)

These challenges are not insurmountable and can be addressed by developing leaders to have the necessary capacities and capabilities to perform effectively in their specific environment and conditions.

Virtual Teams

Just as with different face-to-face work structures and environments, there are specific best practices and techniques that can be more or less effective in a virtual setting. Duarte and Tennant-Snyder (1999) recognize seven basic types of unique virtual teams with members who work across distance, time, and organizational boundaries. These team types are:

  1. Networked teams – diffuse, fluid, and sometimes dissociated members collaborate to achieve a common goal
  2. Parallel teams – a short-term working team with a distinct membership which makes recommendations concerning a special function or task
  3. Project or product development teams – a decision-making team which exists for a defined period of time to produce a specific outcome
  4. Work or production teams – these are usually recognized as organizational units which have a specific regular and ongoing work function
  5. Service teams – these consist of multiple teams which function to provide around-the-clock operations
  6. Management teams – members are located globally but work collaboratively to lead an organization
  7. Action teams – members of these teams provide immediate responses when needed, often in emergency situations or short-term times of need (pp. 2-5)

Team

It’s important regardless of the type of team that virtual team members are aware of, are prepared for, and understand the challenges that each situation and work dynamic presents. It is the leader’s responsibility to identify the type of teams they have, need, or want and to proceed accordingly.

Reflection Point – “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” ~ Babe Ruth

 

References

Boje, D. & Rhodes, C. (2005). The virtual leader construct: The mass mediatization and simulation of transformational leadership. Leadership, 1, 407-428.

Caulat, G. (2006, August). Virtual leadership. The Ashridge Journal.

DeRosa, D. (2009). Virtual success: The keys to effectiveness in leading from a distance. Leadership in Action, 28(6), 9-11.

Duarte, D. & Tennant-Snyder, N. (1999). Mastering virtual teams: Strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed.

Zhang, S., Fjermestad, J., & Tremaine, M. (2005). Leadership styles in virtual team context: Limitations, solutions and propositions. Proceeding of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Most of Us Practice Virtual Operations

The New Age of Virtual Organization Operations

by Mark Sivy

Most of us probably haven’t thought much about being in an era where virtual organization operations play a major role in daily activities, but it does and we’re involved with it. So what examples exist for these types of operations? To explore this we need to first identify what constitutes virtual organization operations.

A Perspective on Virtual Organization Operations

Here’s where it might get a bit tricky since technically virtual organization operations have existed since individuals have communicated and coordinated efforts while being at different locations. To narrow this topic down, I’ll focus on “near real-time” interactions that occur at-a-distance. Prior to the advent of electronics, some of these early methods have been through the use of mirrors (heliographs), smoke signals, drums, and flags (semaphore). As we moved into the 19th Century, organizations began using electronically-mediated services that were being invented, including the telegraph, fax machine, and telephone. Coming into the 20th Century, virtual operations were facilitated with the advent of radio, television, and eventually the Internet.

Virtual organization operations occur when geographically separated members of a team work together in achieving some outcome such as an event, service or product. Any one of these groups can represent a broad pool of shared skills, knowledge and experiences that are networked via digital communication and collaboration technologies. These technologies address the barriers of time and distance, enabling an organization to leverage collective innovation, creativity, and synergy. Virtual Organization Operations

Virtual Organization Operations in Practice

So where does this leave us as practitioners of virtual organization operations? Well, this actually involves a huge range of activities from something as simple as two relatives in different parts of a country talking on the phone planning a family gathering to a corporation’s globally distributed team working together to develop a new product line. Since you’re reading this blog, I would say that it is very likely that within the past 24 hours you’ve engaged in some form of virtual operation whether you’ve placed an online order with Staples or Amazon for merchandise, collaborated on a work document on Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox, or used social media such as Twitter or Google+ to plan a social gathering.

So What’s the Challenge in Virtual Organization Operations?

With all of these common examples of how one might accomplish virtual operations with relative ease, you might be thinking this isn’t rocket science. In part that is correct. Some of the everyday tools that are used for many virtual tasks are linear or have been created for end-user simplicity. However, when it comes to mission critical, dynamic, and interactive virtual organization operations that involve interactions between diverse team members, it becomes much more complex. Working in this type of networked environment requires specialized knowledge and skills that enable people to communicate effectively and function efficiently when separated by geographic distances.

The Challenges in a Nutshell

Body languageMost of us are unknowingly dependent on gaining much of our communicated information and understanding from in-person body language. In a seminal study, Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) discovered that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words stated. So depending on the form of communication, as much as 93% of face-to-face communication content could be lost in communicating with others at-a-distance. We can only partially compensate for this, but it is important that we do, otherwise serious misunderstandings, mistakes, and failure can result.

In a future post, this topic will be explored in more depth using the concepts of presence, emotional intelligence, transactional distance theory, and social constructivism.

Reflection Point – The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. ~ Peter F. Drucker

 

Reference

MEHRABIAN, A., & FERRIS, S. R. (1967). INFERENCE OF ATTITUDES FROM NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN TWO CHANNELS. Journal Of Consulting Psychology, 31(3), 248-252. doi:10.1037/h0024648

Virtual Team Project Feasibility Study

Feasibility Study Outline for Projects Done Virtually

by Mark Sivy

feasibility studyA thorough feasibility analysis provides the necessary information to make decisions concerning the project and much of what is needed to develop a business plan.  One must keep in mind that the study should capture and examine all of the variables facing a concept so that an informed decision can be made concerning the investment of time and resources.

The feasibility study for a project that will be completed through a virtual team, online collaboration, or partners who are at-a-distance typically follows a traditional format, with special attention and modifications being made in certain aspects. Perhaps the most important of these is the level of consideration, care, and thoughtfulness that go into communication. This includes messages that are sent and received, and those that are delivered to virtual teams, individual employees, and stakeholders. (Virtual communication will be discussed in detail in an upcoming post.)

Communication

Below is a suggested table of contents for a feasibility study. It’s followed by a brief description of each element.

Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Scope
  4. Terms and Acronyms
  5. Project / Concept Overview
  6. Description of Objectives, Products, and Services
  7. Assumptions
  8. Consequences and Risks
  9. Alternatives
  10. Technology Considerations
  11. Product and Service Market Analysis
  12. Marketing Strategy
  13. Training and Professional Development
  14. Staffing and Organization
  15. Timeline
  16. Benefits
  17. Financial Projections
  18. Findings and Recommendations

1. Executive Summary
The executive summary provides an overview of the content contained in the feasibility study document. This section is written after the rest of the document is completed.

2. Introduction
Describes the reasons for the concept or project and also the intended outcomes from the feasibility study.

scope3. Scope
Describes the scope of the feasibility study as it relates to the project, stakeholders, and those who it will impact. This is sometimes captured in the introduction.

4. Terms and Acronyms
Provides a list of the terms and acronyms used in this document and the definition of each. Working with team members and suppliers who are at-a-distance requires this section to be comprehensive and to provide a clear and common understanding. This is particularly important when members are internationally dispersed or have different cultural backgrounds.

5. Project / Concept Overview
Offers a brief overview of the proposed project or concept. This will serve as a point of reference for the remainder of the document.

6. Description of Objectives, Products and Services
This section provides a more detailed description of the objectives, products and/or services which are being considered as part of the feasibility study. The purpose of this section is to provide detailed descriptions of exactly what the organization is considering so this information can be applied to the remaining sections of the document.

7. Assumptions
Determine the project assumptions, such as operational life of the proposed system, maintenance, training, sustainability, and scalability.

8. Consequences and Risks
Includes consequences of not taking action, what delays and risks might occur during work, and what delays and risks can be tolerated.

Risk

9. Alternatives
Describes an alternative(s) to the suggested system and states the reasons why the alternative system(s) was (were) not selected.

10. Technology Considerations
This section should explain any considerations the organization must make with regards to technology, including hardware, software, infrastructure, skills, and interfaces. Technology may be developed or implemented internally or contracted through a service provider. This must consider the needs of the virtual organization and technologies that facilitate virtual collaboration and teamwork.

11. Market Analysis
This section provides and assessment of the existing domestic and overseas markets. It will describe who makes up the target market, who the competitors are, how products and services will be distributed, why users might select the products and services and how the market may change in the future.

12. Marketing Strategy
This section provides an analysis of the market and a description of the marketing process. This includes considerations such as a global competitor analysis, differentiating the organization and outcomes from competitors, determining who the marketing will target, and what types of marketing will be used.

13. Training and Professional Development
This is usually not included as a dedicated element in a traditional feasibility study, but in the instance of virtual undertaking it is a crucial component. Realistically, most leaders and team members are inadequately prepared for at-a-distance operations and this is a common reason why many virtual efforts meet with unexpected difficulties, cost overruns, or failure.

14. Staffing and Organization
This examines the people who are needed to implement an idea, including skills, backgrounds, and knowledge. At this point it is also necessary to consider the international nature of the undertaking, including differences in time zones, languages, and cultures. There will also need to be a plan for integrating additional staff and responsibilities into existing organization structures and staff.

15. Timeline
This section will provide an overview schedule, which serves as a guideline and includes major milestones and estimated time frames.

16. Benefits
It is important that the feasibility study captures the most important outcomes of the products and/or services that are being considered as well as how they may benefit the organization, workforce, end-users, and clients.

Finances17. Financial Projections
This section provides a description of start-up costs, operating costs, revenue projections and profitability.

18. Outcomes and Recommendations
This section will summarize the outcomes of the feasibility study and explain what course of action is recommended. This section may include advantages and disadvantages of doing the project and suggestion to enhance project success.

Every feasibility study has its own character and should be formatted accordingly. For other ideas on performing a feasibility study, there are many good web-based resources such as the Together Works discussion, HUD template and Wikipedia information.

Reflection Point – An absolute can only be given in an intuition, while all the rest has to do with analysis. ~Henri Bergson