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Global Virtual Teams

Jun 01, 2018

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    Lind involvement; how decisions are made; how work will be reviewed and approved; and how to resolve conflicts. Nothing should be taken for granted. The meaning of terms such as accountability, coordina- tion, and collaboration^—^and how they should be operational within the team—also need to be dis- cussed to ensure all team members share a common understanding. In short, bringing cultural issues to the surface in a positive light can help create a GVT that is enriched, and not paralyzed, by cultural differences.

    Language represents a particular difficulty for GVTs. English is the de facto language of most Hn-

    Key issues in implementing GVTs

    PEOPLE • Culture • Language • IT proficiency

    T E C H N O L O G Y 1 • Access ibility reliability

    and compatibility • App ropriate technology

    use

    guistically diverse GVTs. However, while it may be typical to have English as a second language in many countries , it is not the case everywhere. Therefore, the fact that one or more team members must speak in a foreign language can easily impede team perfor- mance. Gommunication barriers become even more severe in an electronic context. For example, it is dif- ficult to flilly participate in a teleconference when one does not speak the language fluently. As a result, a team may lose vital ideas and information or take a wrong direction.

    Structured communication sessions directed by a formal leader can give every member the time to speak. Tolerance and empathy are necessary to encourage participation in this context. Writing min- utes at the end of an oral communication session will

    help assure all participants understood the same mes- sage. Appropriate training in a foreign language (often English) is also highly recommended. Finally, helpful technology such as grammar and spell checkers, as well as language translators, can be integrated into email software to facilitate communication.

    In a GVT, there can be wide discrepancies in the participants technological proficiency. Some team members might be comfortable working with group- ware, whiteboards, and videoconferencing, w hile oth- ers might need to be taught how to attach a file to an

    email message. Since GVT success is dependent oneffective communication and knowledge sharing among members, it is essential they feel knowledge-

    able about and comfortable with the use of various technologies so they can actively participate. Lack of facility in using computer conferencing, for instance, could exacerbate existing tensions between individu- als from different cultures. It could also lead to a mem ber s desire no t to participa te in such meetings because of the media used. As well, differences in IT proficiency can contribute to status variations within a GVT.

    To avoid such problems, leaders should provide training and technical support specifically geared to those uncomfortable with computers and other telecommunications technologies. They should also focus on a person s ability to prov ide conten t rather than on their skills with technological bells and whisdes.

    Technology IssuesIt is widely recognized that collaborative technolo- gies provide powerful support in making GVTs a realiry. GVT members can be linked through a vari- ety of technologies including traditional ones like phones, fax machines, and email, and more advanced applications such as desktop videoconfer- encing, collaborative software, intranets, and virtual private networks. However, GVT managers are likely to face unpleasant technological challenges such as hardware/software incompatibility, unrelia- bility, or unavailability, especially connecting people in developing countries. Even narrowband ISDN infrastructur e Is still not extensively developed within current advanced economies and is expensive to use in some countries.

    Therefore, before startiiig a virtual project, its sponsors, with the help of IT specialists, must make sure the required technologies are accessible and com- patible across the various sites and consider the issue of cost and performance. Different countries have dif- ferent cost structures and bandwidth capacities regarding Internet access and use, and these must be

    considered in the design o a GVT. In addition, soft- ware applications must interface reliably because when systems crash, connections are disrupted, data gets mangled, GVT member efficiency drops, and frustrations flare. People in scattered locations must have reliable channels of communication and equal access to resources to avoid duplication of effort and redundant costs. Undcrinvesting in technological infrastructure can bring virtual work to a standstill, even though other challenges are fully addressed. GVT leaders must address hardware and software accessibility, reliability, and compatibility issues and ensure that all members systems have adequate performance.

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    UNDERINVESTING IN TEC HNO LOG ICAL INFRASTRUCTURE CAN

    BRING VIRTUAL WORK TO A STANDSTILL.

    Since GVTs have fewer opportunities fot face-to- face meetings, choosing the right technology to accomplish a task at the right time becomes a matter of survival. Understanding how and when to use these technologies appropriately is not always obvious and requires considerable trial and error by the GVT leaden One of the major disadvantages of a GV T is the lack of physical interaction, nonverbal cues, and synergies that often accompany face-to-face commu- nications. These deficiencies can raise issues of trust. This study found videoconterences may help alleviate a lack of physical interaction. For example, using a videoconference in an initial meeting allows people to be introduced on a more personal level than if the first introduction is conducted via email or teleconference. However, respondents pointed out that unstructured videoconferences can easily run astray, resulting in reduced confidence in the projects success and a loss ot commitment to the project by team mem bers.

    The role of the GVT leader is to establish and manage an electronic workplace based on a variety of telecommunication and collaborative systems and tools that support the team's specific needs—needs that change with the particular task at hand. Each medium has strengths and weaknesses and team members need to learn how to master the ones at their disposal. Some media will work for some tasks and no t for others. For example, teleconferencing or videoconferencing are much richer than email hut require high levels of commitment, flexibility, and discipline on the part of several team members. Indeed, some people might have to get up very early in the m otnin g while others m ight have to stay up late at night in order to attend e-meetings. Therefore, if e- meetings disturb team members' lives, they should be

    conducted only if necessary. While technology is fun-damental to GVTs, leaders should temember that face-to-face meetings are an alternative. Ironically, one of the specific skills a GVT leader needs to develop is the ability to recognize when a face-to-face meeting must be organized fot a project to remain on track.

    Implications GVTs present new and difficult challenges for all members of a team, especially a project leader. Lead- ing a GVT requites more than working on the proj-

    ect's agenda. Both human and technological issuesmust remain paramount. Team leaders shotild he tnindful of cultural differences, communication, and

    language barriers, and discrepancies in technological proficiency among team participants and how these make a difference in team effectiveness. Most impor- tantly, they have the prim e responsibility for creating an electronic workplace that supports the specific and changing needs of the team while ensuring the required technologies are accessible, reliable, and compatible. B

    L I N E D U E (line.dube( *'hec.ca) is an associate professor in [he

    Dep;trtmcni of Information Tcchnologj' at HEC" Montr(?al, Ĉ anad;).

    G U Y P A RE (guy.parc&"'hcc.ca) is an associate profewor in ihe

    Department o Information Technology at HEC Montr^I, Canada.

    Permission to make di^irai or hard copii-s of all or part oFrhis wurk fur personui ur class- room use is j;ranied wirhoiil fee proviileil thut tiipifs aft noi made or distribiitn tor profit or aimmtrcial atlvaniaye and iliat copies bear this nociic and ihv fi.itl itaiiiin im iht first page. To copy oilifrwist. to rcjiublish, lo pust on servers or tii rttlj sen butt- lo lists. ret[uires pt or specifit iiemiiMion and/or a itf.

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