The advances in information technology, such as the Internet, brought new opportunities to organizations. With the globalization and increased competition, the search for lower costs with a continuous increase in quality became the main objective of companies globally.
Among the various solutions to this objective we have the twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week operations, supported by the follow-the-sun teams which are distributed geographically. Also, projects which are conducted by qualified professionals, regardless of their location.
These solutions have made organizations predominantly virtual, where the work is performed by electronic means.
The adoption of this model brought opportunities such as the combination of different kinds of skills and the decentralization of decisions, but also new challenges for communication and leadership to teams which were local and had only face-to-face interactions.
Among the main modifications to these teams are the communication changes, where the face-to-face meetings are replaced by e-mails and telephone conferences, making it necessary the definition and understanding of a common language. Other singularities of virtual teams that need to be taken into consideration are the individual’s location, time zone and its response time.
Virtual teams requires more consideration to specific abilities such as computer use, commitment to the group, clear communication, control and confidence. The trust in these teams is established by the maturity degree from its members, the regularity of their participation and the share of clear knowledge and honest opinions.
The challenges of adopting a virtual team schema are: resources from different organizations that respond to distinct leaders, causing lack of integration and objectives variation; different time schedules; cultural and language contrast; reluctance in using standard tools for problem solving; lack of familiarity with virtual technologies; making inefficient management decisions; distractions caused by virtual work (such as instant messaging); trouble finding times where everyone is available for meetings; collaboration deficiency; focus absence; slow response from management and non – productive phone meetings.
Virtual teams can become complex due to the presence of professionals from different knowledge, companies, countries and cultures. However, these cultural differences may also be considered as an advantage for these teams, since these differences favor the sharing of ideas, which can bring various solutions to obstacles found during a project or task.
As facilitators strategies for virtual teams’ management are: the clear definition of responsibilities and goals; the use of face to face or through video conferencing; differentiate local and virtual teams adequately; the need for a leader having autonomy to direct and coordinate the progress of project activities by subgroups, raising problems and ensuring a successful implementation; communication and documentation of work decisions and ensuring those decisions are shared to all team members and stakeholders. In this latter strategy, using tools such as wikis are indicated.
In addition to the video conferencing tools and wikis, performance indicators as: the quality of responsibilities and objectives definition; decision-making quality; problem solving agility; availability and team commitment; cultural distance between team members and satisfaction with the choice and use of technology can also be used as facilitators management virtual teams on projects.