Virtual Teams

Leadership Challenges in Global Virtual Teams

Continuing our series of ‘Matrix Monday’ reviews of papers and literature, we  take a closer look at Leadership Challenges in Global Virtual Teams: Lessons from the Field, a paper by Kenneth W.Kerber & Anthony F.Buono. 

This article is a review of global virtual working using a real case study of the set-up of a global virtual team against a setting of corporate re-organization and rationalization.

The authors note that performance of virtual teams often fall short of expectations and state that less than 5% of virtual teams ever reach optimal performance, even when they have had the opportunity of meeting face-to-face. They review the advantages and concerns inherent in virtual working.

The advantages, in their view, included being able to bring together geographically separated expertise, and being able to hire and/or retain individuals who are unable or unwilling to relocate, amongst others.

The concerns included the difficulty in achieving alignment to the teams’ purpose, and an increase in interpersonal conflict based on weaker relationships within the team, again amongst others.

The case study is based on a corporate training and development virtual team within a $3bn company with 8,000 employees who were going through significant re-organization following declining revenues. The team had 11 team members, and they were spread over the face of the globe, but with a heavy US bias. The team had no budget for travel.

The authors saw the dynamics of virtual teams as a balance of forces that pulled the team apart and those which helped bring the team together.

The forces that pulled these teams apart in their view were: lack of casual face-to-face contact with team members; time differences; cultural differences;  and the pressure to pursue local priorities with the latter being the most powerful.

The forces that bring the team together – in their view – included defining a compelling challenge; jointly defined identity goals and processes; performance management; and a lavish information flow – both synchronous and asynchronous.

Based on this model and the experience of this virtual team, the authors recommend the following:

  • Work together on an important business challenge that team members find personally compelling;
  • Jointly define and commit to the teams identity, goals and processes;
  • Implement a focussed performance management process that is embedded in team routines;
  • Create lavish information flow by using familiar as well as new communication technologies to overcome distance and time;
  • Tie these efforts together through the personal commitment and dedication of the team leader.


Leadership Challenges in Global Virtual Teams: Lessons from the Field, by Kenneth W.Kerber & Anthony F.Buono, SAM Advanced Management Journal: Autumn 2004

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