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More connected, yet further apart? Building connections in a global team

 

Virtual teams

 

In the modern business world, many leaders will have responsibility for teams that live and work in different cities, countries, even continents. This situation has been driven by the rapid adoption and continual improvement of various communication channels that can make this distance practically inconsequential. We can now video conference colleagues in New York in HD, and we can showcase live PowerPoint presentations to colleagues in India despite the distance. Even the humble email has meant that conversations can continue across oceans and time zones, allowing work to be started in one country and finalised in another.

 

For leaders, this can raise an interesting question: does ever-increasing digital connectivity actually make it harder for a leader to connect with their followers? In essence, while an organisation’s people are able to work more closely together, does the lack of direct interaction in a single office setting actually reduce a leader’s ability to build relationships with their followers and even, in turn, impact on their overall capacity to lead effectively?

 

Challenges

 

These so-called ‘virtual teams’ certainly present unique challenges for a leader. Some of these relate to the cultural differences that members of a global team will almost certainly possess, and the impact this might have on the way a team is led. This issue is true also of diverse teams physically present in the same office, though in a team spread across the world, a leader arguably needs to be more sensitive to these differences because the day-to-day office cultures different team members operate in are likely to be more distinct.

 

Another consideration is the level of direction and oversight that a leader might need to provide in a virtual setting. A team that is constantly interacting with each other in the same office will have a more nuanced, closer understanding of their individual role in a particular task. A quick conversation can rectify a situation where work overlaps or understanding of responsibilities diverge. In a diffuse global team, this might not be possible, meaning that a leader must be more directive in terms of distinguishing each follower’s particular role.

 

Building trust

 

Trust is another facet of leadership that must be established differently in a remote-team situation. A leader and their followers can’t build that trust over regular formal and informal interaction in person, so trust must be built through consistency of action. This is true for both the leader – who must be reliable when it comes to directions, demands and oversight – and followers – who need to ensure they meet deadlines and produce results regularly. 
 
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