Virtual Teams

How team leaders get buy in to a virtual team

In today’s Matrix Monday review (#MatrixMonday on Twitter) , senior consultant John Bland looks at ‘Strengthening Identification with the Team in Virtual Teams: The Leaders’ Perspective’ by Anu Sivunen.

Phone callOne of the most common questions asked by leaders of virtual teams is “How do I get good buy in to my team?”

At Global Integration, we have developed a range of tools and tips that help our participants deal with this challenge – tools that we know (intuitively) work and that our participants tell us they find useful and pragmatic.

What caught my attention this this week was an article which was published in Group Decision and Negotiation in 2006, and which researched, albeit on a rather small sample, what leaders did to “strengthen identification with the team in virtual team working”.

Or to put it into our language – what leaders did to engage their team, and how they created a sense of community within their team.

In her work she focused on teams where the team members “have different cultural backgrounds, [….] often work in different countries and are professionals in their own fields [and] mainly communicate through technology”.  So this is very relevant research to us.

Written by Anu Sivunen from the University of Jyväskylä, the article summarises her research work on four separate virtual teams.

She found that successful leaders did four key things to create this sense of community within the team. They: –

1. Cater for the individual

This means treating people as individuals.  It means coaching and supporting them.  And it means understanding and relating to their needs as individuals.  This doesn’t have to be big things.  For example one leader simply showed he understood the time difference: “It must be awfully late for you”

2. Give Positive Feedback 

As an example here, Anu stresses the importance of focusing on what has been achieved, rather than what has not. Sharing good news and progress with the team is another simple way of doing this.

3. Bring out Common Goals and Workings

This is all about knowing where you can jointly add value.  (For more on this topic Chapter 1 of our book Speed Lead on Star group and Spaghetti team is invaluable reading.)

4. Talk up the Team Activities and Face-to-Face Meetings

What works here is to do specific team building activities  – or anything else which creates positive feelings about the team and the team members.  This is best done (possibly it can only be done) face-to-face.


All in all, I found the article a very useful reminder of what to do – plus, it’s nice to have some research to back up our experience.  If you’d like some practical tips on how to do these four things even better, then please contact me.

Why not…?

Citation: Sivunen, Anu, Strengthening Identification with the Team in Virtual Teams: The Leaders’ Perspective, Group Decision and Negotiation, Springer Netherlands

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