NL

1.
Virtual Team
Structure

In
an organisational setting, the various tasks and relationships are regulated
through an organisational structure. According to Mead and Andrews (2009,
p.147), clear structures help to “channel communications, reduce the likelihood
of conflict, influence opportunities for growth of the organisational culture as
well as providing control”.

For
a virtual team spread out across the world, this presents unique challenges.
Edwards and Wilson (2004, p. 69) articulate the problems associated with
“sharing information, creating trust, team identity and open communication and
breaking barriers” for a virtual team.

To
overcome these challenges, the structure for a virtual team must be as flat as
possible, with decentralised control and decision-making, possibly organised on
a regional (geographical) basis.

A
flat organisation helps to minimise delays, costs and removes layers of
bureaucratic red tape which can slow down progress. Incorporating a regional
structure would help overcome differing time zones as volunteers in a particular
region can channel their contributions to a local regional structure from which
they would be transmitted to a common hub at headquarters. To enhance
efficiency, it would be beneficial to have pools of experts in strategic
locations within the various regions.

2.
Three issues and suggested
solutions

Wong
(2007, p. 27) identifies “three key elements required to run a successful team:
content, process and behaviour.”

Content
issues
are
likely to arise from the different, and often incompatible or competing,
interests in environmental issues such as carbon emissions in the many different
jurisdictions across the world. This can be worsened by lack of consensus on
what the carbon emission limits should be across the world. Securing the
political will and support of key governments would also be a
challenge.

To
overcome this issue, increased co-ordination would be required to identify
conflicting content recommendations from the various regions. A central
decision-making task team of legal and environmental experts can also be
incorporated in the structure to consider submissions from the various regional
teams, identify and investigate any conflicting inputs and resolve them
centrally.

The
second issue would be process-related in terms of the difficulties
associated with co-coordinating the work of volunteers spread out across the
world, especially if there are language barriers which can hinder communication
amongst the various team members. Differing time zones would worsen the burden
of coordination and make collaboration amongst team members even more
difficult.

Some
of the ways to overcome process issues suggested by Edwards & Wilson (2004,
p. 69-71) include establishing communication protocols upfront as well as
“team-building tasks that replicate the informality of face-to-face
informality.” A & C Black (2007, p. 41) suggest a key step to “agree terms
of engagement” which address issues such as mutual respect, how conflict will be
resolved, decision-making processes as well as time management
issues.

The
third key issue might be related to behaviour of team members from
different cultural backgrounds which may be incompatible and lead to conflicts.

To
overcome this issue the six team behaviours identified in Wong (2007) – “mutual
trust, interdependency, accountability, valuing individual differences,
transparency and learning & recognition” would help build a cohesive team
with a sense of common identity and shared trust.

3.
Motivating Individuals

A
& C Black (2007, p. 39 -48) provide a framework consisting of eight steps
for the motivation of individuals in a team.

The
first step is to bear in mind that people in the team have different values,
beliefs and motivation needs, all of which may not be clear-cut at all times.
This helps to prevent unwittingly thwarting team members’ needs and interfering
with their values and beliefs.

The
second step is to communicate the vision, mission and purpose of the team so
that the team members can understand the bigger picture, the ultimate reason for
the existence of the team.

Step
3 is to agree with the team the terms of engagement spelling out ground rules
covering issues like respect, conflict management, decision-making protocols,
focussed commitment and time-keeping.

Step
4 is to understand team member motivations. Kovach (1987, cited in Mead &
Andrews (2009, p.114) found that supervisors and employees, even from the same
culture, had differing views and perceptions about the needs and priorities of
employees. To devise schemes that are meaningful to team members, leaders must
understand the drives that motivate the team members.

Step
5 is to “allocate roles and responsibilities”. This clarifies expectations and
focuses efforts of team members.

Step
6 is to “offer constructive feedback” through regular reviews and evaluations
that acknowledge the contributions and performance of team members.

Step
7 is to “praise achievement and celebrate success.” This helps reinforce
positive performance and encourages team members to do more.

Step
8 is to “empathise with team members” as they go through the various stages of
team development.

Summary

Virtual
teams present unique and more complex challenges to organise, structure, lead,
and motivate. However, creative interventions and innovations can be adapted
from existing, traditional team leadership principles to suit the requirements
of virtual teams.

References

A
& C Black (2007) Steps to success: manage teams successfully.
University of Liverpool Online Library [Online]. Available from:http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/lib/liverpool/docDetail.action?docID=10196621
(Accessed: 24 January 2014).

Edwards,
A. & Wilson, J.R. (2004) ‘Implementing virtual teams: a guide to
organizational and human factors’
, University of Liverpool Online Library
[Online]. Available from:http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/lib/liverpool/docDetail.action?docID=10048150
(Accessed: 24 January 2014).

Mead,
R. & Andrews, T.G. (2009). “International Management: Culture and
Beyond,”
4th
ed. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, England.

Wong,
B.T.Z. (2007) Human factors in project management: Concepts, tools, and
techniques for inspiring teamwork and motivation.
San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass.

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