The 5 Flaws of Virtual Teams

By Tara Powers

Before you jump feetfirst into the world of virtual teams, you want to be knowledgeable about the common challenges that virtual teams face that can potentially render them as failures. Most of the research available on virtual team obstacles cites similar challenges, the five flaws of virtual teams. These flaws generally represent a lack of focus, commitment, and leadership by the organization.

Flawed leadership

Leaders of virtual teams who lack clarity on goals, purpose, and priorities will end up managing teams that are off track, second-guessing simple decisions and working on the wrong things at the wrong time. Team members make their best guess at what needs to be done and can create duplicate work, rework, or waste time and resources on something unimportant.

Without an investment of time and focus appreciating the diversity of gender, race, culture, age, thought, and style of your team, cliques can occur, and you may find yourself dealing with isolationism and disrespectful behavior.

If the team leader isn’t a role model in establishing a strong relationship of trust and openness, team members may be afraid to speak up when they don’t know the answer or feel as if they’re drowning but are afraid to ask for a life vest. Team members also won’t trust each other, which can have a significant impact on feeding the additional flaws.

Flawed communication

Virtual teams who don’t begin with clear, consistent communication strategies that everyone agrees to are in for a world of trouble. These strategies can include the following:

  • How often the team connects and for what purpose
  • What communication tools are appropriate for different situations
  • How people like to get work done and receive information

Think of it this way: You’ll have different generations on your team who are comfortable using different communication methods and desire different amounts of connection and engagement throughout the workday. Not having any standards in place for what good communication looks like can feel like having a dreadful dancing partner where you’re constantly out of sync, stepping on each other’s toes, and eventually falling to the floor in a tangle of confusion.

Flawed transparency

If team members aren’t keeping each other updated on dependencies and deliverables, then your virtual team isn’t really operating as a team. Rather, team members are operating in a silo with a lack of understanding that they are part of something greater and they have an impact on the success of others. In order to create transparency along with clear expectations and consistent feedback from you as the leader, rely on how technology can make your life easier.

Flawed commitment

Why does this work matter? Why do you matter?

These questions beg to be answered on a regular basis with virtual team members. Without daily connection with the manager or home office, team members can easily lose sight of their value and contribution to the bigger picture.

Make sure that you clearly define the virtual team’s rules, responsibilities, and tasks for commitment to flourish. Evaluate each team member’s skill sets and then carefully match them with the tasks that need completed.

In order to gain high levels of commitment from people who aren’t working side by side on a daily basis, figure out the answers to questions, such as “Who does that task?”, “When does Joel hand off work to Kyla?”, and “How do we know that work has been completed successfully before that virtual hand off takes place?”

Flawed technology

Agile technology tools always need to be a topic of discussion for a virtual team to succeed. If your teams aren’t assessing and analyzing what’s working and what’s holding them back, they will soon be using outdated technology to connect, communicate, and collaborate. Regular tech audits and feedback from your teams is an imperative process to make a habit in your business along with a willingness to invest in the right technology, at the right time for your team.

Another key consideration — and often overlooked factor — is the requirement of fast, reliable Internet connection. All of the virtual team tech platforms are run on the web so all team members must live and work in an area where they can rely on full-time, uninterrupted web access.

Virtual work and cloud technologies also introduce security and compliance challenges. Many virtual teams work on highly proprietary projects in development that require security. Traditional management tools can leave your virtual team vulnerable.

When assessing using virtual teams as a business strategy, if you’re not willing to put time and attention into considering these factors and challenges, perhaps moving toward a virtual team model isn’t something your organization is currently ready for.