A B-school professor at the University of North Carolina has studied 54 global teams in 31 companies, from Intel to Royal Dutch Shell. One big surprise: These virtual teams, largely composed of people who have never met, were not only productive but also more innovative than “face-to-face teams.”
“They make decisions faster with more input from others and develop policies that are implemented worldwide with fewer problems than conventional teams,” writes Professor Arvind Malhotra, a professor of information and technology management at UNC. In a smart essay in the fall 2004 issue of UNC Business, Malhotra takes on numerous myths associated with these global teams:
Myth: Far-flung teams are deployed to save money on travel.
Reality: High-performing far-flung teams are measured on faster, better responses to rapidly changing environments.
Myth: Far-flung teams require hands-off leadership.
Reality: Far-flung teams require communication-intensive leaders. Far-flung team leaders check in on each of their members frequently, mentor them, establish and communicate team norms and continuously monitor adherence to norms and adjust them as frequently as required.
Myth: Far-flung team leaders dont deal directly with diversity.
Reality: Far-flung team leaders handle diversity purposefully, recognizing it early in the teams life cycle and leveraging it throughout the teams life cycle.
Myth: Face-to-face meetings are required early in a far-flung teams life cycle to build trust.
Reality: Far-flung teams build trust through a planned team communication strategy and frequent in-process, team-tuning sessions (mostly without ever meeting face-to-face).
Myth: Given the restrictions of time and space differences, far-flung teams are best served by allocating one task to every member.
Reality: Far-flung teams build trust and simulate intellectual growth by pairing diverse members into subteams that perform highly interdependent tasks.
Myth: Face-to-face meetings are required for brainstorming.
Reality: Electronic brainstorming gives far-flung team members more time for reflection and produces quality ideas.
Myth: Far-flung teams only need weekly conference calls to stay connected.
Reality: The joint use of real-time synchronous (audioconferencing, electronic white-boarding, application-sharing and instant messaging) and persisting asynchronous communication (living virtual team rooms with document repositories and electronic discussion boards) enables far-flung teams to coordinate and collaborate across space and time.