Virtual Team Successes and StressesA Case StudyAs widespread as diverse and dispersed teaming is these days, leading a virtual team can be achallenge. This case study offers ideas on making the best of diverse and dispersed team structures.Virtual teaming, that is, working on teams whose members are not present in the same location, isa fact of our modern, globalized business world. Virtual (or diverse and dispersed) teams areprevalent not only in multinational companies with offices in different countries, but also inacademic and non-governmental institutions with bases across the world. In such team structures,members often have to communicate and collaborate with others who could be thousands of milesand many time zones apart.As widespread as diverse and dispersed teaming is these days, leading a virtual team can be achallenge. Team leaders need to not only account for practical matters such as scheduling acrosstime zones, but also technical issues such as varying rates of connectivity and access tocommunication platforms. However, one of the biggest factors in creating successful collaborationamong diverse and dispersed teams is culture – specifically, tailoring the team’s mission, plansand procedures to the preferences of the different cultures represented on the team.The following is a case study provided by a Cultural Navigator subject matter expert in diverseand dispersed teaming:“A virtual team leader named Rebecca, originally from the United States, recently led a virtualproject team with members from Japan, Mexico, Germany, Korea and the US. Rebecca wasfocused on setting the team up for success, and although she deliberately used strategies and toolsmade available by her company, she learned some valuable lessons along the way.“Before initiating the project with a kick-off meeting, Rebecca made sure that everyone filled outtheir Cultural Orientations Indicator (COI) assessment to get to know their own work-stylepreferences. She then invited all members into a team message board on the Cultural Navigator,and encouraged them to share their profiles to better understand each other’s work-stylepreferences.“The team was not able to have a face-to-face kick-off meeting, so during their first virtualmeeting, every team member took time to introduce him or herself. The members talked about thedifferent preferences in their team using the non-judgmental vocabulary of the CulturalOrientations Approach. At the end of the call, the team agreed on some ground rules for theirupcoming teleconference and then closed the call.“As the project continued, the team leader noticed that key team members were regularly notsharing their sales pipelines during their calls as agreed upon. Rebecca used humor during theirsessions to lighten the mood, thinking some of the team members were nervous. However, shenoticed the same people began to skip the calls, and were reluctant to speak when they were inattendance.”In the above case study, the team leader Rebecca had done her due diligence in preparing the teamto accommodate different cultural preferences among its members. But then she hit a snag. Whathad she done wrong?The subject matter expert offered this reading of the situation: “In retrospect, Rebecca realized thateven though she had set ground rules, she could have had an individual talk with each memberbefore finalizing the team structure and processes. Perhaps in those discussions she would haveunderstood that Woo-jin, her Korean colleague, worked in a strict hierarchical office environmentand had to clear most decisions with his direct supervisor before sending anything to her. Woo-jinhad hoped his team leader realized he did not have this approval, however Rebecca was not awareof this.Similarly, the Japanese team member named Kamiko was concerned about the strict dataprotection laws in Japan, so she did not feel comfortable sharing her sales pipeline information.Kamiko had tried to indirectly convey this limitation to Rebecca, who wasn’t able to understandthis message.As for Rebecca’s use of humor during teleconferences, she did not realize how many culturalreferences she was using in her jokes, which her colleagues from outside her own culture had littleunderstanding of.”In essence, while Rebecca began the team’s collaboration with most of the components necessaryfor success, throughout the project duration, she learned the hard way that cultural mishaps oftenstall even the best plan.While cultural due diligence and careful preparation are necessary components of working with avirtual team, the team leader and members need to exercise cultural awareness and culturalcompetence all along the way.Though there can be challenges to working in diverse and dispersed teams, they are a fact ofmodern work life. The good news is that, when managed well, virtual teams can be as effectiveand productive as their traditional equivalents.
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