FAQs about Global Virtual Teams

Below are a few frequently asked questions regarding Leading Global Virtual Teams – and some suggested answers.

Why do people not do exactly what I’ve asked them to do?

This is a huge question to which there can be no single, satisfactory answer. Issues which may have an impact are:

  • The instructions are given using a type of language that is difficult to understand. Have you explained what you want to happen in a clear and comprehensive manner? Always start by questioning your own actions before condemning others.
  • The team member may not think that the task allocated is their responsibility. Some cultures do not feel comfortable taking on tasks which lie outside the remit of their job description. You may need to remind people of their remit or re-allocate certain tasks.
  • The team member is part of several other virtual teams and is prioritizing the work of the other teams more highly. Ensure that your relationship with each team member is so strong that they will always put you at the top of any priority list.
  • You may have a weak team member. Are they capable of the tasks you have asked them to do? Do they need additional training? Are they in a role to which they are not suited?
  • Team members are not acting on your instructions because they know that it is the wrong thing to do – for whatever reason. Some cultures do not like to say no and do not like to deliver bad news. Probe more deeply as to why they are not doing what has been asked of them – ask if there are any obstacles which you might not be able see from a distance.

Why is it more difficult to build virtual relationships?

The development of trust is vitally important if a virtual team is to operate effectively but trust is notoriously difficult to develop if you don’t meet people regularly.

Better relationships and real trust in each other are built when the team leader is seen to take an active and genuine interest in getting to know each team member as an individual. Each team member should be treated equally and fairly – preferential treatment should never be seen to be given to one person or one group of people within the team.

Team members should know each other as people with social interests rather than as merely a group of people who are only defined by the tasks allocated to them as team members.

Positive feedback should be given and an enthusiastic tone set from the outset.

Every opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings should be used taken and a space allowed in these face-to-face sessions for social interactions.

How do you overcome a problem if there is no common language in the team?

This is a hugely difficult question, the answer to which can never be finite. Find below a few suggestions for how to proceed:

  • Have a clear picture in your mind of the language capabilities of each team member – especially their ability with the language which has been agreed upon as the ‘team language’.
  • Map out team members who have languages in common. It is often useful to know if somebody is weak in the team language but strong in another language.
  • Do not discourage people from explaining certain points in a language which is not the ‘team language’.
  • People can usually read a language more fluently than they can speak it – use the written word to back up (or precede) verbal messages.
  • The use of diagrams can often cut through language difficulties – diagrams are universal.
  • If a team member is vital for technical reasons but struggles with the language, see if language classes can be organised

How do you undo any damage caused through poor communication?

Despite the virtual team leader’s best efforts, problems will still arise and misunderstandings will always happen (after all, they do in co-located teams).

When a problem arises due to poor communication, it is important that the team leader recognises that the problem is the result of poor communication and is not a sign of incompetence. The leader should then inform the whole team that a breakdown of communication has occurred and that steps are being taken to repair any damage – but blame should not be apportioned.

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