Defining Virtual Team Roles: Strategies & Importance

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  • 0:04 Virtual Team
  • 0:47 Importance of Role…
  • 1:38 Strategies to Define Roles
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha has a Doctor of Education degree in math education and is currently working as a Information Technology Specialist.

Have you ever called your credit card company and the person on the other end is on the other side of the world? Well, they could be part of a virtual team! In this lesson, we will explore virtual teams, the importance of roles, and strategies to define roles.

Virtual Team

Mark's company recently opened a number of branches in Asia and Europe. Mark now has to build and manage all of the virtual teams that are distributed across multiple continents. Virtual teams are groups of people working on a project, but they are not on site. Instead, they may be dispersed throughout many locations across countries and continents.

Virtual teams are also known as dispersed teams, distributed teams, or remote teams. Mark's team is a global virtual team (GVT) and is distributed across different countries. The main mode of communication is information and communication technology (ICT), which includes the use of fax, email, video and audio conferencing, and social media channels.

Importance of Role Coordination

Mark's company moved towards a GVT structure because they wanted a flatter organization structure and the ability to offer flexible work hours in order to attract talent and gain an advantage over their competition. One of Mark's new responsibilities is role coordination. He would need to learn how to effectively manage the tasks or roles of virtual team members, who may have interdependent tasks despite not having a shared office space.

In the context of any team, a role is defined as the part that the team member is expected to play, similar to the role of an actor in a movie or a drama. In a global virtual team, roles are important because even though they are located in geographically remote locations, each person expects and depends on a set of deliverables from other members of his or her team. If any part of the task is not completed, the team will not be able to function effectively.

Strategies to Define Roles

Mark started building his teams with small groups of people who had complementary skills and an interest in working towards a common project or goal. He defined the main characteristics of his global virtual teams:

  • Team members should be goal-oriented.
  • Team members will be distributed nationally and internationally.
  • Team members work on tasks that are both complex and strategically important.
  • Team members should be accountable for the results produced by the team.

A team role is the way a person interacts and behaves as a member of the team. After working with teams and making observations, management theorist Dr. Meredith Belbin made the observation that people on teams assume team roles by default. Mark decided to follow Belbin's team role model to create balanced teams.

When following the model, Mark had to keep in mind that all members of the team could not have similar weaknesses because that could lead to the entire team having the same weakness. On the other hand, if all members of the team had the same strengths, the team members may tend to compete with one another instead of working together towards a common goal. So it was important to create balanced teams. The challenge that Mark faced when creating virtual teams is the fact that since the teams are virtual, distinct personalities and behaviors and preferences towards certain tasks may not be apparent immediately.

The model defined three main types of roles:

  1. Action roles: these included shapers, implementers, and completer-finisher roles.
  2. People roles: these include coordinator, team worker, and resource investigator roles.
  3. Thought roles: these include plant, monitor-evaluator, and specialist roles

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