Research Paper: Communicating in a Technological World

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Leading & Managing Virtual Teams

Leading and Managing Virtual Teams

Virtual teams have long been part of the organizational structure of the armed forces, with the U.S. Army being one of the leading branches of service that is continually improving this approach to managing remote resources, people and tasks to attain missions and objectives. The intent of this analysis is to evaluate how managers and leaders of virtual teams ensure a high level of effectiveness and goal attainment, nurture social dynamics and enable decision making processes in virtual teams. Analyzing the success factors of virtual teams is also discussed. As the U.S. Army has been one of the leaders in defining and fine-tuning the concepts of virtual teams, examples are taken from this branch of service to further illustrate how leadership and management of virtual teams are optimized. Due to the geographically dispersed nature of the U.S. Army's operations, the need for virtual teams that could run autonomously yet also be tightly integrated to mission and goal accomplishment became a critical need during the last century. The foundational elements the U.S. Army discovered about leading and managing virtual teams have been accelerated by the global adoption of the Internet and corresponding increase in collaborative applications based on Web 2.0 design principles (O'Reilly, 10). A diagram of how the design principles integrate with each other is shown in Appendix A of this document. The catalyst of Web 2.0 design principles is collaboration and knowledge transfer to ensure a high level of mission, objective and goal attainment while increasing trust within a virtual workgroup or team. The ongoing development of collaborative Internet-based platforms and applications is making knowledge transfer and shared goal attainment more accurate and efficient than had been the case previously. Complimenting these advances technologically have been advances in the depth and complexity of missions, corporate strategies and objectives assigned to virtual teams. The next section of this analysis discusses how the leadership and management of virtual teams must concentrate on taking ownership for an entire process area first and then linking their results to the broader mission or objective.

Fundamentals of Leadership and Management of Virtual Teams

Leading and managing subordinates in virtual teams is one of the more challenging roles from an organizational behavior perspective. Managers not experienced with managing virtual teams often initially resort to Theory X-based strategies to enforce compliance and conformity despite in many cases the lengthy geographic distances between locations (Konradt, Hoch, et.al.). This often impedes the process of the virtual teams as subordinates, concerned over exact compliance to a manager's requirements, often delegate decisions upward they need to be empowered to make. A Theory X approach to managing teams therefore does not scale globally well at all. Instead a focus on how to successfully self-motivate virtual team members through a combination of Theory Y leadership styles (Sager, 289, 290) and the use of transactional leadership techniques that reward consistently high performance are very important. Successful leadership of virtual teams relies also on the extent to which trust can be nurtured and strengthened across geographically dispersed team members (Jang, 406, 407). Further, Theory-Y-based managers were more capable at managing the uncertainty and lack of absolute clarity of tasks, often coaching members of their virtual teams to take the initiative and also the risks to make decisions on their own (Sager, 310-312). As a result it often is the case that the most effective managers of virtual teams lead by example and seek to provide enough guidance and support for the virtual team members themselves to grow in autonomy, mastery and skill in their given areas. Highly effective managers who transition into leadership roles of virtual teams are able to provide subordinates with enough coaching, even remotely, to give them autonomy, mastery and purpose of their needed skill sets and roles (Shriberg, et.al.). Organizational learning occurs when autonomy, mastery and purpose are accomplished by subordinates, in addition to employee satisfaction and retention increasing as a result.

Conversely there is no clear-cut path of cause-and-effect management and leadership techniques to ensure the success of a virtual team (DeRosa, 9). On the contrary, that is what makes it so difficult, challenging yet is incredibly valuable as skills in managers and leaders. It has been found that selecting self-directed professionals who have a unique skill set in a given area, and who have shown the ability to manage ambiguity, complexity and risk well do the best in virtual teams. These professionals do exceptionally well as key contributors to virtual teams where their expertise is often relied on immediately and in depth to solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity. Analyses of virtual teams in manufacturing and distribution companies, whose functional strategies are comparable to the armed forces, illustrate this point. When the mission or strategic objective of a virtual team is focused on orchestration of complex processes and managing exceptions to them, as is often the case with supply chain management, logistics, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO), subject matter experts in virtual teams are much more effective than teams of technicians. Over time virtual team members who have been managed well and given the chance to attain autonomy, mastery and purpose in their jobs trust each other enough to share increasingly valuable information. In the highest performing virtual teams when this occurs knowledge sharing becomes more prevalent and the virtual team becomes a learning ecosystem (Lee-Kelley, Sankey, 51). Virtual teams that are the highest performing attain this level of information exchange, creating trust-based knowledge networks as a result. While technology is not the centerpiece or core component of the strategies to create a virtual team capable of becoming a learning ecosystem, it does play a part in making collaboration more efficient and focused over time (Vaccaro, Veloso, Brusoni, 1278). Technology is a process and trust enabler in the best virtual teams; it is not necessarily the centerpiece or most critical aspect of virtual team development (Strategic Direction, 27). The most critical aspect of virtual team development and leadership is coaching and managing team members to attain the highest levels of autonomy, mastery and purpose they are capable of in their area of expertise. When this occurs, virtual teams are capable of managing high levels of uncertainty and risk while attaining challenging and often complex missions and goals (Eom, 13, 14).

Assessing Leadership Effectiveness, Social Dynamics, and Decision Making Processes by Virtual Teams

Defining the members of a virtual team, their working relationships and reporting relationships and assignment of managers and leaders of the teams all combine to define the extent to which a team will be able to attain its missions and objectives. Coordinating all of these elements of a team at the outset have a significantly greater impact on social dynamics leading to trust and decision making processes becoming more efficient and clear thinking. All of these factors have to be coordinated with each other to ensure that each team member, who often is chosen due to their ability to work with a high level of autonomy, have the support and trust to do their jobs. Studies suggest that when individual virtual team members see the value of each member's contributions and also see the impact or relevance of their efforts, effectiveness increases exponentially (Bal, Teo, 276 -- 278). As a result, team managers and leaders must focus on choosing candidates that have an exceptionally high level of personal accountability and responsibility to team objectives so they can readily see how their contributions not only attain shared objectives but also help others attain their goals as well (Bal, Teo, 291, 292). In effect the selection of each component of a virtual team must gel or synchronize together for each member to see how their contribution matters and also how their activities impact each member of the team as well. For the manager or leader who is given the responsibility of choosing virtual team members the responsibility of seeking out those who have deep expertise in their areas and also have strengths at communication and collaboration is critical. For the virtual team leader, the ability to also communicate expectations clearly, foster collaboration through leadership and keep members motivated by showing how individual efforts leads to team results being attained is critical. This takes a manager who can quickly interpret where their virtual team is on projects, look to synchronize their efforts, and gain status updates without micromanaging (Bal, Teo, 277 -- 280). The most effective virtual team managers and team leaders do not rely purely on technology to get consensus and nurture collaboration. They have the managerial skill sets that are well aligned to the needs of their virtual teams for guidance and support.

Another aspect of virtual teams is the social dynamics that are defined by the leadership strategies used in selecting and motivating its participants. Studies indicate that the level of inter-contributor trust and support in a virtual team is a direct result of how a leadership team is organized and motivated over time (Jang,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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