While there is little doubt that a virtual team can give you a very competitive edge in the market, the success of this team is heavily dependent on its performance. All the advanced communication tools in the world mean nothing if a team is unable to perform at a high level.
To maximize the performance of your virtual team, you must understand the power of "perception." In many ways, perceptions are more important for virtual teams than reality itself. When virtual team members encounter each other, they may need data about the other team members. This data is necessary because it allows them to learn more about their teammates.
This data can also be used to size up the other members. This in itself is important because it will play a critical role when it comes to future interaction. Trust is a crucial factor in the success of a virtual team, and trust will be form and function as a type of filter where the behavior or work of the team members can be measured.
In the end, these factors which actually determine the success or failure of the virtual team. A team must be able to execute its tasks in the proper manner. When there is no history of interaction for the team, the members will have no choice but to rely on stereotypes that they may associate with the other members.
In this case, the issue of stereotypes will occur more from demographic, or work related information, as opposed to issues such as race. The perceptions that team members have of each other are dependent on the occupational factors, and will play a major role in both the processes and outcomes of the team’s projects.
Some would argue that these factors may be even more important than the ability of each team member to contribute successfully to the project. An effective team manager is an individual who is able to monitor and alter the perceptions of the other team members. Virtual teams have many weaknesses when compared to their traditional counterparts.
Virtual Team Weaknesses
Understanding the weaknesses which are inherent in all virtual teams can make it a lot easier for a virtual manager to successfully keep the team together and finish projects efficiently. Being able to alter the perceptions of team members are a critical component of this. Because the members of the team are working from remote locations, one of the biggest challenges that these teams face is that it is simply easier for individual members to slack off.
In a traditional team environment, where all the members are working within the same location, it is easy to catch slackers. However, in the virtual arena, it is easier for members to cut corners, and by the time it is realized that this is being done, the results for the team may be disastrous.
Another factor that can allow virtual managers to increase the performance of their teams is SIDE, or Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects. With SIDE, when members of a team are unable to get virtual information on the other members, they will become highly sensitive to any identity cues which are made within the team’s interaction.
If these cues are able to consistently measure the social identity of the team, then this means that the identity will be salient for everyone, and they will act within the norms that have come to be associated with the group. For instance, think of a collection of IT specialists that come together for a discussion over the web.
How SIDE Works
During this hypothetical discussion, if the specialists continually make references to their professional qualifications to emphasize specific points, SIDE indicates that all the specialists will play closer attention to their identities as IT people. This means that they will gradually begin to conform to the expectations which are established for how these type of people should behave.
In addition to the above, you should also keep in mind that social identity is not something which needs to be recognized in a public manner. Doing something as simple as labeling the members of the team may allow the group to become more salient.