Leadership in Globally Distributed Virtual Teams: Redefining the Qualities of an Effective Leader and Strategies for Effective Management

Leadership in Globally Distributed Virtual Teams: Redefining the Qualities of an Effective Leader and Strategies for Effective Management

Madelyn Flammia, Kirk St.Amant
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4478-6.ch008
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The purpose of this chapter is to introduce readers to various factors that can affect the management of international virtual teams. In examining this topic, the authors provide an overview of what each factor is, note how each factor can create problems in international virtual teams, and explain how effective management—or informed approaches to managing such teams—can help mitigate such challenges. The authors also provide readers/managers with foundational strategies that can facilitate the sharing of information and the creation of trust in international virtual teams.
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Challenges Of Virtual Teamwork

Numerous authors have noted the advantages of using virtual teams within the context of today’s global economy. These advantages include access to wider ranges of international talent/skilled labor, increased speed with which projects can be completed if distributed globally, and reduced cost associated with everything from utilities and office space to labor and transportation (Brewer, 2010; LaBrosse, 2008). Yet, like all new undertakings, the move to virtual teams is not without its detriments—particularly when team members are drawn from different nations and cultures (Ang & Inkpen, 2008). For these reasons, those who manage such teams need to understand the various factors that can affect interactions and information exchange when using ICTs to coordinate the activities of individuals distributed across a range of nations and cultures.

Both team leaders and team members face numerous challenges when engaging in virtual work. Some of the challenges are similar to those faced by collocated teams. Both virtual and collocated teams, for example, face challenges related to communication and knowledge sharing during the life of a project. These challenges, however, are often heightened when team members must rely solely on computer-mediated communication technologies that do not allow for non-verbal cues and impromptu discussions. As a result, central aspects of communicating and building trust tend to disappear when professional interactions move to online environments (Daim et al., 2012; Huang, Kahai, & Jestice, 2010; Kimble, 2011).

In fact, the selection of appropriate technical tools for collaboration is one of the challenges faced by virtual teams (Brewer, 2010). And when such interactions take place in global contexts where issues of culture and language come into play, the complexities of managing team dynamics seem to multiply almost exponentially.

The primary challenges virtual teams face can be broken down into several broad categories:

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