Five Misconceptions About Virtual Teams

Remote work and the likelihood of being a part of a virtual team is on the rise. Employees enjoy the perks of remote work including the flexibility of better managing their work and person lives. Organizations can source the right talent from anywhere with virtual teams. As this new norm grows, let’s debunk five misconceptions associated with virtual teams.

1. The Bigger The Virtual Team, The More It Can Get Done

Wrong! To get things done, team members must talk to each other. With a team of five, it takes ten conversations for team members to connect with everyone about a critical issue. Ten conversations is very doable. When we look at a team with thirteen members, it requires seventy-eight conversations. It is unrealistic to expect seventy-eight conversations to actually take place.

It’s the number of links between people that creates the collaboration problem. A team of five members is ideal. It’s large enough to have a diversity of ideas yet small enough for one person to build on another’s ideas. If you go much beyond five, you have lots of people offering their views. They come out as serial monologues with little ability to make collective sense. If you want your team to move fast, break a large team into smaller pods. The work should be re-designed for a small team to accomplish a given task. You ensure collaboration between the pods by selecting leads for each pod that frequently meet for coordination. These leads are not bosses but coordinators – regular members of the teams who are willing to take on extra duty.

2. Virtual Teams Do Not Need To Meet Face-To-Face

False. It is almost impossible for team members to maintain deep relationships required for a truly cohesive team without periodic face-to-face interaction. Research undeniably supports this. When people come together in person, they have the opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas, as well as convey feelings in a way that’s tough to do virtually. Having the whole team together can make sure everyone is interpreting objectives, goals, roles, and other vital content the same way. Disagreements can be aired more easily and quickly, and mistaken assumptions can be identified and dispelled. Lastly and importantly, face-to-face meetings help people create bonds needed for team members to collaborate virtually down the road.

3. It’s Helpful To Have Co-located Team Members Meet All Together While Remote Members Join Through Skype Or Zoom

Mixed-mode causes real problems! Having some participants sit together in the same room as the boss while others are only online can create unduly privileges those who are co-located. Participants in the room can make eye contact with the person speaking and can notice who is getting ready to talk. Those online have no eye contact and can only view the whole group. Even if the group is careful about ensuring online team members “get in,” remote participants remain second-class citizens. Build a level playing field across time and distance by having every team member be on their office computer for team meetings. We are all together or all apart. Just remember – no mixed mode.

4. Virtual Teams Don’t Need To Worry About Team Building

All teams need to think about how they’re working together periodically. It’s even more critical for virtual teams because they lack opportunities to run into a colleague in the hall to repair a misunderstanding or to casually check out how others might be thinking about an issue. Team building can be accomplished virtually if spaced over time. Rather than gathering for a two day face-to-face event, effective team building can occur in two hour virtual segments spaced over six weeks. Virtual team building workshops increase trust, build appreciation for others’ strengths and weaknesses, strengthen alignment around goals, and improve communication.

5. Get Everyone On The Same Page By Showing PowerPoint Slides & Have Everyone Do Individual Status Updates

This one is a no-brainer! According to a recent study in the Harvard Business Review article “Getting Virtual Teams Right” by Keith Ferrazzi, Dec. 2004 issue, 82% of people admit to doing other things while in a virtual meeting, anything from surfing the web to playing solitaire. They do so because the meeting, or substantial parts of, are of little interest.

Follow the 80/20 rule to overcome this.

Make meetings 80% active and 20% passive. Don’t bore meeting participants by showing slides or reviewing documents which can be sent and read before the meeting. Use meeting time to solve problems, exchange ideas, offer suggestions, or seek guidance. Do this in small breakout groups of 3-4 people and invite team members to suggest items needing to be discussed in the meeting.

With the rise of virtual teams, we can all benefit from learning how to work best in virtual environments. The Running Remote Conference is dedicated to just that. You can expect to be taught next-level, actionable strategies and tactics you can utilize instantly to empower and grow a distributed team, whether in a remote-first organization or a remote team within a hybrid or traditional company. If interested in attending, you can purchase tickets here and use the promo code “cpiaustin30” for 30% off registration.

Nancy M. Dixon, PhD

Dr. Nancy M. Dixon is International Consultant with extensive experience in the areas of remote/virtual team development and knowledge management within the corporate, government, and non-profit sectors. She is a former tenured Professor of Administrative Sciences at The George Washington University, and served on The University of Texas Human Resource Development Graduate Faculty. Her book, Common Knowledge, takes an insightful look at knowledge transfer and how companies thrive by sharing what they know.

Career Partners International – Austin

Career Partners International – Austin (CPI) is a leading human capital solutions firm that provides Talent Acquisition, HR Consulting, Talent Development and Career Transition solutions thru a global network of more than 300 offices in over 45 countries. CPI offers flexible programs ranging from onboarding to exit and everything in between. Our members are the best in their region and are backed by world-class technology to help clients address changes in workforce dynamics while supporting your business vision and developing the potential of everyone in your organization.