In our August issue, contributing writer Scott Kirsner wrote about several companies who have deployed far-flung virtual teams around the world to manage key projects. Now a B-school professor at the University of North Carolina has studied 54 global teams in 31 companies, from Intel to Royal Dutch Shell. One big surprise: These virtual teams, largely composed of people who have never met, were not only productive but also more innovative than “face-to-face teams.”
“They make decisions faster with more input from others and develop policies that are implemented worldwide with fewer problems than conventional teams,” writes Professor Arvind Malhotra, a professor of information and technology management at UNC. In a smart essay in the fall 2004 issue of UNC Business, Malhotra takes on numerous myths associated with these global teams:
- Myth: Far-flung teams are deployed to save money on travel. Truth: High-performing global teams are measured on faster, better responses to rapidly changing environments.
- Myth: Far-flung teams require hands-off leadership. Truth: These teams require communication-intensive leaders. These team leaders check in on each of their members frequently, mentor them, and establish and communicate team norms.
- Myth: Global team leaders don’t deal directly with diversity. Truth: Far-flung team leaders handle diversity purposefully, recognizing it early in the team’s life cycle and leveraging it throughout the team’s life cycle.
- Myth: Face-to-face meetings are required early in a far-flung team’s life cycle to build trust. Truth: Global teams build trust through a planned team communication strategy and frequent in-process, team-tuning sessions mostly without ever meeting.
- Myth: Given the restrictions of time and space differences, far-flung teams are best served by allocating one task to every member. Truth: Far-flung teams build trust and simulate intellectual growth by pairing diverse members into subteams that perform highly interdependent tasks.