Team Structures are Changing: Virtual vs Traditional Teams Discussion on Twitter

Virtual Team Work at Lego
Virtual Team Work at Lego (Photo credit: publicmind)

I retweeted an article “@WarrenWhitlock: Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams RT @HarvardBiz” and said “Easy to say, Hard to do” (see

In summary the 3 points the author made were this (related to Virtual teams):

  1. They can enlist the best expertise from any location
  2. They can reduce the cycle time of projects by shrewd use of a “follow the sun” schedule
  3. They can tap a diversity of input
And that to do this you must:
  1. Put processes in place
  2. Communicate less — but in the right ways
  3. Keep conflicts focused on tasks

Having worked in both the traditional and virtual team, the statement made is technically true – yes, they *can*, but there are additional factors that must be considered, including (but not limited to):

  • Culture – Some cultures are significantly different in their work approach. For example, a team I worked with I observed British developers frustrated by Indian developers because the latter were (in the main) only executing the work they were asked to do, not take initiative to code based off understanding implications of the work at hand. Culturally, they were following the pattern that applies to them. Equally the Indian developers felt they were “put upon”. We had to implement a middle layer to counteract this
  • Language – When there’s not a common language, translations can cause issue. Also causes issue when trying to communicate with other channels
  • Timezone – Collaboration is essential; having a group in Chicago talking to a group in Baroda has to consider the 10.5 hr time difference. Makes calls very hard to do without impacting personal time
  • Emotional attachment – Having worked with external consulting development groups, some have exhibited traits akin to “I coded the work requested. I’m gone in 3 weeks so I don’t care if it runs slow when you hit 10k transactions”. They don’t care about the future of, and so aren’t attached to the quality of the product.
  • Operational – Trying to overcome network, security and hardware boundaries can be difficult – e.g. a firewall rule between two regions might create issues for the team

Is there anything better?

Team dynamics are changing; the use of and demand for Enterprise Social Networks means that  teams are more formed around the product or service rather than the logical team (e.g. Marketing, Communications).

Instead, we increasingly see individuals from IT, User Experience, Client Service, Marketing, Communication collaborating together to form a closer bond and share the emotional involvement; this avoids the “not my job” and blends where one starts and another stops. Virtual teams certainly will continue to exist and in some cases, work very well. However they should be used judiciously and not on small sets of factors alone (e.g. financial).


2 thoughts on “Team Structures are Changing: Virtual vs Traditional Teams Discussion on Twitter

  1. I don’t think the original article meant to say that virtual is better, just report on some advantages.

    Frankly I don’t think there is a “better” here. Any company that doesn’t look at both options would be crazy. It’s far more important to get people who work well together and where they sit is way down my list.

    Personally, I’d never take a job that required me to be make that choice.. but then again, I’m highly unlikely to ever take any job 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment Warren! They do have a time and a place for sure; I worked in a virtual team that did work (across IT, Marketing and Communications) – however my personal opinion on why was due (in part) to the social time the team spend together – a in-place team meeting followed by a couple of dinners opened up conversations and consequently the speed and dynamic of the team. Also the time difference was workable and everyone shared a common (first) language.

    I’ve also worked in virtual teams where the “follow the sun” ideal was sold in, but was also done for financial reasons. Took about a year to get things working and the “follow the sun” concept really only came out as an advantage for a handful of times. The perceived financial gains were lost in productivity, errors and challenges such as collaboration conflicts.

    Thanks again for following up!

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