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Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

Book: Virtual Team Success

How to build one, get high-performance results, and keep it motivated

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 07:57

In Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance (Pfeiffer, 2010), authors Darleen DeRosa and Richard Lepsinger share findings from their 2008 global research study. They wanted to know what factors made some virtual teams excel while so many dissolved in failure. What differentiated these high-performing virtual teams from those less successful? And what differentiated effective virtual team leaders from less effective ones?

The main difference between a virtual team and the more traditional type is that a virtual team is not co-located. Virtual team members may be in different departments in a building or dispersed around the world. Like their standard counterparts, virtual teams share a clear and common purpose, but the flow of pertinent information is enabled through information and communication technology.

From a variety of industries, 48 virtual teams from 16 organizations participated in the study. The authors also conducted more than 50 interviews with human resource executives, current members of virtual teams, virtual team leaders, and employees who previously served on a virtual team. Their research revealed the need for practical guidance on leading from a distance, because its skill set requires different capabilities than traditional team management. 

The book is organized as a go-to guide for facing challenging situations unique to virtual teams. Throughout are checklists, resources, and self-assessments to see where you rank as a virtual leader, to learn your skill level and leadership style, and to better understand what is relevant to virtual teamwork.

Section one focuses on what it takes to build a high-performing virtual team—and also what can derail one. High-performing virtual teams are profiled in Chapter 2 to help you recognize a “good” team, and Chapter 3 serves as a toolkit with resources and best practices for successfully launching virtual teams. Strategies and tips that help virtual team leaders and members boost team performance are discussed in Chapter 4.

Section two focuses on answering the many how-to questions asked by successful virtual team leaders. The discussion will help you learn what differentiates leaders who are most effective and includes answers about how to:

• Conduct high-impact virtual meetings
• Establish clear goals for virtual teamwork
• Improve communication and facilitation skills
• Better influence virtual team members and more effectively gain their commitment to the team
• Enhance the accountability in the virtual team
• Boost virtual team performance
• Effectively manage change in a virtual environment
• Learn the skills required to provide coaching and support for the virtual team
• Recognize and reward virtual teams and their members

During their research, the authors were surprised by how many virtual teams are ineffective, and even more bewildered at the number of companies that either were not aware their virtual teams were under-performing, or despite their investments, did not make the effort to enhance their teams’ effectiveness.

Chapter 6 describes actions team leaders can take to help virtual teams define their objectives. Team leaders learn how to do this in Chapter 7, which is a practical guide for leading productive virtual team meetings and managing a team’s communication to foster collaboration. Leading from a distance requires understanding the technology that makes it possible, and that, too, is covered in Chapter 7.

Four pitfalls to virtual team performance

Lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities. This is quite common with team members who have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. This happens when goals are never clear from the start, how the team should function together is never defined, or members are not well-informed in a timely manner of a change in focus. Virtual teams have frequent changes of members, which can easily disrupt priorities and lead to confusion.

Lack of clear roles among team members. Poorly designed accountability structures can cause delays and inefficiency, especially when individual team members do not know whom to report to or who should report to them. More important, members should be clear about what they are expected to contribute.

Lack of cooperation. This can be caused by a lack of connectivity or trust due to subgroup collaboration. Failing to keep all members informed, differences of opinion, and not knowing how to resolve conflict can also result in problems with cooperation.

Lack of engagement. A common problem for virtual teams, lack of engagement is caused by not feeling challenged, feeling isolated, not having meaningful goals, poorly defined roles, or ineffective team leaders.


Darleen DeRosa, Ph.D., is a managing partner at OnPoint Consulting. She brings 10 years of management consulting experience, with expertise in the areas of talent and succession management, executive assessment, virtual teams, and organizational assessment. DeRosa has written numerous articles on virtual teams.

Richard Lepsinger is president of OnPoint Consulting and has a 20-year track record of success as a human resource consultant and executive. He is the co-author of four books on leadership, including Closing the Execution Gap: How Great Leaders and Their Companies Get Result (Pfeiffer, 2010).


About The Author

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Laurel Thoennes is an editor at Quality Digest. She has worked in the media industry for 33 years at newspapers, magazines, and UC Davis—the past 25 years with Quality Digest.