Leading a Virtual Team Is Not Easy

Businesses are getting more global and so are the leaders that lead a virtual team in these enterprises. It’s rare for a leader to find all his team member in one location, more often than not they are geographically dispersed in different time zones.

Virtual teams are an increasingly prevalent organizational structure that promises to transform the way business is conducted within and between organizations. The best employees, who can be located anywhere in the world, expect personal flexibility in a global work- day that extends over twenty-four rather than the traditional eight hours. Virtual teams, characterized by geographically distributed human resources, offer important challenges as well as opportunities for leaders.

Virtual team leaders operate in different conditions than leaders of traditional co-located teams. They are often called on to play both a team member and leader role at the same time, and they may be part of more than one virtual team with a leadership role in one and a member role in another.

When in the leader role, these virtual team leaders face unique challenges: they need to ensure quality performance of team members and mentor and coach team members, all from afar.

Competencies for new age leaders

These new competencies include technological proficiency and appropriate use of technology, cross-cultural management skills, ability to coach distant team members, ability to build trust among dispersed team members, networking with others outside the team such as customers or other stakeholders, and remote project management skills.

New age leaders assume multiple roles

Researchers have found that effective virtual team leaders need to perform multiple leadership roles simultaneously.

Research suggests that virtual team leaders need to assume six different roles, which are indicative of effective leadership in brick-and-mortar settings as well:

  1. Living example: Serve as a role model of effective virtual teaming
  2. Coach: Help team members develop their own potential and ensure accountability in others
  3. Business analyzer: Translate changes in the business environment into opportunities for the organization
  4. Barrier Buster: Open doors and run interference for the team
  5. Facilitator: Bring together necessary tools, information, and resources for the team to get the job done
  6. Results catalyst: Help the team improve performance and achieve good results

Being empathetic is the key

Highly effective virtual team leaders are mentors and exhibit a high degree of understanding (empathy) toward their team members. At the same time, they are able to assert their authority without being perceived as overbearing or inflexible. Furthermore, they are adept at providing regular, detailed, and prompt communication with their peers and in articulating role relationships (responsibilities) among the virtual team members


Virtual team leaders do not exercise control over others; rather, they coach individuals in remote locations on self-control. As a result, the leadership styles that they depend on may vary. Leadership styles that virtual teams use range from permanent leaders, to rotating leaders, to either a leaderless structure or one assisted by a facilitator or coordinator. Leadership styles may not remain constant throughout the team’s life.

Using these tips, you will be able to effectively lead and manage a globally dispersed team.

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