VTA: Virtual Team Assessment
The 90's word "virtual" conjures up lots of enticing but essentially unreal images. Virtual seems to mean something that is real but only in some parallel universe. It has the appearance of reality--as in virtual reality--but it does not exist in fact. So what is a virtual team? Is it real? Does it exist in this reality?
Two researchers who has thought a great deal about this subject put it this way:
A virtual team, like every other team, is a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose. Unlike convention teams, a virtual team works across space, time and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997, pp. 6-7, emphasis added).
Another recent definition adds some other elements to the mix by saying that virtual teams are also cross-functional and cross-cultural:
A virtual work team can be defined as a group of people who are working on the same business project, but are located at different geographical sites around the world and represent different disciplines reporting into different departments/organizations. Virtual teams rely mainly on some form of technology to facilitate the work discussion (e-mail. Fax, phone, videoconference, etc.) and often the members are from different international cultures and speak different languages (Thach & Stone, 1997, p. 1).
It's clear that virtual team are not co-located and have few opportunities for face-to-face meetings and informal communications that are integral to conventional, one-site teams. As a result, certain factors are critical for the success. We have carved out four critical success factors for virtual teams:
- Goals. The team's goals and project plan must be a unifying force that incorporates the organization's strategy, the objectives of the various disciplines on the team and the needs of team members.
- Stakeholder Relationships. The team must have the complete support of the key stakeholders especially the discipline leaders or departments heads that are providing resources for the team.
- Communications. The team must master and effectively employ all the available communications technologies.
- Internal Team Dynamics. The team's culture is consistent with, and its members are competent to work in, a virtual team environment.
The goal of this instrument is to identify its strengths and weaknesses as a virtual team. Specifically, the VTA can be used in the following ways:
- Team Assessment. The data from the results provide a picture of the team in four key areas.
- Team Building. The data can provide the basis for a team building intervention designed to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses.
- Team Training. If the VTA is completed by a number of virtual teams, the results can point to various across-the-board training needs.
- Review the VTA to determine if all of the items are appropriate for your team. Check to ensure that all team members have a common definition of such terms as stakeholder, project plan and intranet. Edit or provide explanations, as appropriate.
- Explain the purpose of the instrument to the team. Include an explanation of how and who will see the completed VTAs and who will create the team summary. Provide a date, time and location for a review of the results.
- Present the results at a team meeting. Facilitate a discussion that
includes the following areas:
- Overall Impression: how do you feel about the results? Surprised? Confused? Satisfied?
- Strengths: What are we doing well? What things should be preserved?
- Areas for Improvement: What things need to be changed? Where are we weak?
- Action Plan: Develop a list of actions to be taken along with an identification of a person responsible for the action and a completion date.
George, J. "Virtual Best Practice: How to Successfully Introduce Virtual Team-Working," in Parker, G. M. (Ed.) Best Practices for Teams, vol. 2, Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 1997).
Lipnack, J. & Stamps, J. Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
Stone, M. L. & Thach, E. C. Virtual Work Teams: Creation and Connection (unpublished manuscript).