In this day of telecommuting, virtual reality and Internet access to just about every aspect of our lives, the concept of virtual teams is now a foregone conclusion. Virtual teams can be composed of employees from various branch offices throughout the country, of students working together from schools separated by miles or continents, or just about any group of individuals who share a common project or task.
Just as with teams who meet together face to face in a room, a virtual team must have a competent team leader to function well. Keeping the team's attention can be more difficult in a virtual environment by virtue of the greater number of distractions available. Simply logging in to the assigned team meeting time will not guarantee an effective team experience.
A team leader or manager needs to make the team experience as interactive as possible. The leader should pose questions that require interaction between team members or request information requiring team participation.
One of the biggest advantages of virtual interaction is that everyone doesn't necessarily have to be online at the same time. Virtual teams can benefit from chat rooms, question and answer forums set up where questions are asked online and team members can respond as time permits and check back into the site at any time for updates. A virtual team is alive 24 hours a day. This greater freedom can be both a blessing and a curse. An effective team leader must be ever vigilant in managing the team's progress.
Early in the team's existence, the team leader should establish goals for the team. These goals should be quantified and listed on the team website for everyone to be aware of, and also for everyone to provide input for changes and improvements. The most successful virtual teams change and grow with the contributions of all team members. An effective virtual team manager is not the "boss" so much as the "facilitator." By proper management strategies, the team leader gets tasks accomplished and constantly moves the team forward in their progress towards their goals.
Losing virtual team members can be a constant concern. Life in cyberspace can create a lack of commitment to the team in the long term. A good manager knows and even expects this and is prepared to find innovative ways to bring new blood to the team when needed. A good team manager will never allow the team to wither and die off because of a lack of interest.
Progress reports are necessary to understanding just how far the team has come in reaching their ultimate objectives. This information should be shared with all members of the virtual team. Nothing creates disinterest in the virtual team faster than being left out of the information loop.