Virtual Success: Challenges and Opportunities

May 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

People in companies around the world think, act, work, learn and lead differently, based for the most part on their culture. Culture both consciously and unconsciously shapes values, perceptions and behaviors, as well as setting systematic guidelines for how we should conduct business.

Last week we took a look at how we can combine different components of culture to move virtual teams forward. This week we will explore how you can effectively manage cultural differences from a practical viewpoint that will allow everyone to benefit from cultural diversity.

By its very nature, the make-up of virtual teams is diverse. This is good – it allows you to maximize different perspectives and, hopefully, leverage the differences to gain new insights and fresh perspectives. However, there are factors that need to be managed if a virtual team is to not only survive, but thrive, within the complexities of a virtual team environment. Here are some common challenges you may have as a leader in creating synergy within your virtual team:

  • Leveraging the differences in cultural norms of team members
  • Understanding how different people manifest their cultural norms
  • Influencing the different functional, professional and alternative subcultures
  • Being empathetic to the functional and geographic dispersion of team members
  • Managing the the perception of status differences within the team
  • Leveraging culturally different leadership styles
  • Controlling differing expectations regarding key processes and procedures

These challenges need to be managed throughout the lifecycle of the team. The sooner they are acknowledged and worked on, the more efficiently the team will be able to deliver results.

Despite these challenges, there are also unifying factors that can connect a virtual team with their diverse team members. Virtual integration can occur based on common agreement as to accepted principles and processes and mechanisms such as shared vision and values.

Here are some commitment points that may serve as a cohesive force for virtual teams:

  • Service quality and continuous improvement:  Foster a team commitment to providing the best possible service and quality possible.
  • Continuous learning:  Develop the idea that all members should be open to new ideas and learning from one another.
  • Responsiveness and timeliness:  Emphasize the importance of responsiveness to the needs of team members, as well as both internal and external customers.
  • Collaboration:  Promote a commitment to cooperation, rather than competition, as the team’s modus operandi.
  • Cultural Sensitivity/Customization:   Advance the idea of developing a dedicated interest in other cultures relevant to the team. Encourage the team to understand how differing cultural perspectives can impact product/service development based on both global and local deployments.
  • Global thinking:  Cultivate the team’s ability to actively search out global viewpoints and see possibilities from a broader perspective.

As a leader, if you are able to leverage the above rallying points to advance the team development of a global mindset, you have made significant progress toward virtual integration. Developing commonalities in these areas will create a team that is open to exchanging ideas across boundaries and borders and breaking down provincial ways of thinking. Your focus needs to be on creating virtual teams that can successfully operate cross-functionally, cross-divisionally and cross culturally around the world. Managing the “virtual” dynamic lies at the heart of creating, implementing and sustaining a successful virtual team.

Are you strategically managing the challenges and opportunities inherent in your virtual teams?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you manage the challenges and opportunities on your virtual teams. Always feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week, when we will discuss how you can manage cultural differences in a way that will allow your virtual teams to benefit from cultural diversity.


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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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