Virtual Teams: Benefits & Challenges


  • Martin White


Although the current language of business speaks of ‘collaboration’ it does not speak of ‘virtual collaboration’ but of virtual teams. This is useful because not all teams work in a collaborative way with a common cause.

A team can be defined as a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and who manage their relationship across organisational boundaries. A team therefore has a unity of purpose, a social structure, and its members share a common responsibility for outcomes which is not necessarily a common cause.

Probably the most comprehensive survey of virtual team adoption currently available was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit in late 2009.

The main reasons quoted in the report for establishing virtual teams were:

Improve collaboration with other business units;
Tap into a larger pool of expertise;
Improve competitiveness through a faster response to opportunities;
Cost reduction, especially travel costs and the need for internal meeting spaces;
Improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners.

The challenges of working in virtual teams were seen as:

Misunderstandings due to differences in culture, language and an inability to read people’s expressions;
Difficulty in leading teams remotely;
Difficulty in building camaraderie and trust;
Difficulty in managing the productivity of virtual teams;
Managing information overload.