Many companies now rely on the use of virtual teams,not only to save costs and gain a competitive advantage in attracting new talent, but especially to be able to rely on experts from all regions of the world to carry out projects. What sounds promising and successful, however, is also subject to some risks. In today’s globalized world, the disadvantages and challenges of virtual teams are also a topical topic.

What are virtual teams?

As mentioned above, virtual teams are often an association of experts from different regions around the world. In order to avoid the effort of bringing all team members together, conferences on the exchange of information and project structure are held online. This makes it possible to work together on an order across time zones and locations. This is especially worthwhile because the members of virtual teams usually only work together for a limited period of time and then form different team compositions for new projects.

Disadvantages and challenges of virtual teams

What sounds like only positive aspects, however, also has some pitfalls. But what exactly are these disadvantages and what challenges do virtual team participants have to face? Obvious disadvantages such as language barriers or possible cultural misunderstandings can be quickly identified. Virtual teams also have other obstacles to overcome.

For companies, the greatest problem is often the high organisational and enormous technical effort when using unlinked teams. Structures are often ambiguous and roles and task distributions often cannot be clearly defined by the use of external experts. Each team member often has their own ideas about the course of the project, which do not always coincide 100% with those of the company, which can lead to difficulties in working together. And technology is also often a difficulty. Precisely because all communication takes place online, an unrestricted functionality of all mobile and internet-enabled devices is extremely important. Companies do not always manage to create all the necessary conditions for a smooth process and this can often lead to delays in the schedule of individual projects.

But also for the experts themselves, working in virtual teams is not just a job on the sunny side. Precisely because of the cultural differences and the comparatively rather impersonal cooperation, it is often difficult for many team members to establish a relationship of trust with the other participants. In the worst case, this can lead to isolation or a lack of identification of the individual participants in the processing of the project tasks. Finally, the quality of the final result can also suffer from the resulting low communication.

Leading virtual teams

These disadvantages and challenges of virtual teams place great importance on the team leader. But how should virtual teams be managed to avoid these hurdles? After all, a takeover of traditional leadership styles does not work smoothly due to other communication structures. As a team leader, it is therefore of enormous importance to build a team system that enables a basis of trust despite the lack of personal contact. This requires a level of relationship between the individual experts in order to ensure better transparency and interaction in the individual processes. Coordination and self-management should also be promoted among the individual team members. On top, it is also a matter of recognizing people as the most important building block of project management in virtual cooperation.
This is the only way to make successful use of virtual teams despite some disadvantages and aggravating challenges. Read my article next week about the benefits of virtual teams!

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Dr. Dominic Lindner
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I have been running this blog since April 2016 and publish content about agile companies and the digital transformation. In addition to my full-time job in practice, I have been doing my doctorate externally since 2016 at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg on the influence of agility in digital transformation.

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