I retweeted an article “@WarrenWhitlock: Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams RT @HarvardBiz” and said “Easy to say, Hard to do” (see http://bit.ly/GBTfrd)
In summary the 3 points the author made were this (related to Virtual teams):
- They can enlist the best expertise from any location
- They can reduce the cycle time of projects by shrewd use of a “follow the sun” schedule
- They can tap a diversity of input
- Put processes in place
- Communicate less — but in the right ways
- 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).