Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 1
Posted by Brad Egeland
The business justification for virtual teams is strong. They increase speed and agility and leverage expertise and vertical integration between organizations to make resources readily available. Virtual teams also lessen the disruption of people’s lives because the people do not have to travel to meet. And in today’s business world that’s big. That’s green. Team members can also broaden their careers and perspectives by working across organizations and cultures and on a variety of projects and tasks.
Although the effective use of electronic communication and collaboration technologies is fundamental to the success of a virtual team, virtual teams entail much more than technology and computers. When virtual teams and their leaders are asked about successes and failures, they rarely mention technology as a primary reason for either. While it’s important that software packages such as Seavus’ Project Planner or Project Viewer are used to keep virtual teams informed and in sync, it’s not all about technology.
There are seven key success factors for virtual teams, of which technology is only one. Others are human resource policies, training and development for team leaders and team members, standard organizational and team processes, organizational culture, leadership, and leader and member competencies. We’ll look at these in more detail in the next article.
Not all of the key success factors need to be in place for virtual teams to succeed. The implementation of virtual teams within an organization can actually push toward the attainment of key success factors. Successful virtual teams seem to demand certain conditions, and the existence of the teams will, over time, help to create the infrastructure conditions that make them work.
NORTEL’s Information Systems Group implemented virtual teams before it had attained many of the key success factors. The teams immediately recognized that they needed certain things to succeed, such as high levels of autonomy to do their jobs, standard team-initiation processes, structured communication plans, and appropriate electronic communication and collaboration technologies for all team members. They also recognized that they needed to re-educate their customers about what to expect from a virtual team work environment.
The leaders of the virtual teams independently created team processes and standards, communication plans, and empowerment guidelines for team members. They put together customer-education packages. The training organization created a virtual team Web site and collected and placed the processes and lessons learned on the intranet for new virtual team leaders and members. Over time, NORTEL took a more deliberate approach to moving toward an infrastructure that would support virtual teams. Many of the processes it formally institutionalized got their start through the boots trap approach of its first virtual teams.
Again, seven key success factors for virtual teams are:
- Human resource policies.
- Training and on-the-job education and development.
- Standard organizational and team processes.
- Use of electronic collaboration and communication technology.
- Organizational culture.
- Leadership support of virtual teams.
- Team-leader and team-member competencies.
In the next article, we’ll look further into each of these seven factors and how team leaders and project managers can help create the conditions that will lead to success for their virtual teams and projects.
This article is based on information from Eric Verzuh’s book “The Portable MBA in Project Management.”
- Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 2
- Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 3
- The Complexity of Virtual Teams
- Technology as a Change Agent
- Team Collaboration and Project Management for Virtual Teams
3 Comments to “Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 1”
May 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm
Karen says:You’ve made some great points about virtual team management. Transitioning to a virtual workforce model takes planning and ongoing maintenance to help ensure its ultimate success. Workforces are going to become more geographically dispersed and companies used to traditional structures need the right tools to manage the new workforce dynamic. As we work with companies to develop virtual workforce strategies, we find the common denominator of all seven keys you listed is communication in its various forms.
October 22, 2011 at 6:32 am
Nader Ale Ebrahim says:A great article. A research on “Critical Factors for New Product Developments in SMEs Virtual Team” available on (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1688931), explore the others key success factors in the virtual teams. Reading these two papers strongly recommended.