With the explosive growth of virtual teams, the question arises: ‘what can leaders do to maximize the performance of their virtual teams?’  A recently published study provides some helpful answers (Mysirlaki & Paraskeva, 2019).  Data analysis from a survey completed by 500 virtual team members revealed that

1.  Leader emotional intelligence was positively related to leadership style, which in turn was associated with virtual team effectiveness.

2.  Task interdependence, group cooperation, networking, and team cohesion all contributed to virtual team performance and effectiveness.

3.  Team members who worked on tasks requiring them to work with others reported higher team satisfaction. 

Building a high-performing virtual team requires a leader to function on two levels: a) individual and b) team.

Individual Level:  At an individual member level, the researchers found that leaders who expressed their emotions and feelings increased their virtual team’s effectiveness.  By understanding and regulating their emotions, leaders can more effectively manage their teams by helping their members achieve higher levels of team satisfaction and performance. Team leaders should, therefore, inspire and empower the individuals on their workforce everyday by adopting a leadership style that includes articulating an inclusive vision, role modelling the behaviors they wish to see in their people, demonstrating genuine concern for the needs, feelings and concerns of their members, and challenging their members to be innovative and creative in accomplishing their tasks and fulfill the team vision..

Team Level.  Research finds that when virtual team members share materials, information, and expertise to achieve the desired performance or result, the shared standards, and regular behavioral patterns expected by the team members are stronger and the virtual team performs better. Because high task interdependence and team interaction have a considerable impact on virtual team performance, leaders must pay great attention to the initial assignment of team tasks. Leaders should structure virtual teams to have high task and project interdependence by using task-driven interactions among group members. Such a practice creates shared standards and behavior patterns, and enhances members’ perception of personal contribution to the team’s success (a common problem when working virtually due to the lack of face-to-face communication).

Virtual teams have become commonplace in organizations, and will remain so even after the current pandemic subsides. Leaders who understand the fundamentals of building and leading high performing virtual teams will have a decided advantage over leaders who believe ‘the way it used to be’ is coming back. 

Reference

Mysirlaki, S., & Paraskeva, F. (2019). Virtual Team Effectiveness: Insights from the Virtual World Teams of Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Journal of Leadership Studies13(1), 36–55.