Practical Application: Analyzing Communication for Virtual Teams

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Communication is key to success, particularly among virtual team members. In this practical application, we'll take a look at some different virtual teams and the unique challenges they face with communication.

Communication in Virtual Environments

Communication is always important in business, as miscommunication can lead to lost time and money as well as friction between team members. But communication can be especially tricky in a virtual environment where team members do not see each other in person regularly. Communication for virtual teams depends on the size and function of the team and can result in a variety of tools being used.

For more information on communication in virtual environments, see the lesson Communication Strategies for Virtual Teams.

To deepen your understanding of team dynamics and communication in virtual environments, take a look at the scenarios below. For each one, think about what elements of the team's communication was positive and what was negative. You can answer the questions after each scenario in a short essay, a Q&A format, or another form.

Scenario 1: Timely Responsiveness

Louisa is a manager of a five-person virtual team in charge of the website redesign for a large, multinational corporation. Her team uses a variety of ways to communicate. Specifically, they use instant message, a private wiki, and email to send each other messages, questions, and updates every day.

Recently, one of Louisa's team members has brought a problem to her attention. The programmer, Joan, is only sporadically responding to others' messages. When the designers and content writers send work to Joan, they often won't hear anything for days. When they email or IM her about a problem, she either doesn't respond or takes a long time to respond. The rest of the team is worried and frustrated.

What is Louisa's team doing right? What challenges are they facing? What tools, strategies, or support might Louisa provide for her team to help them communicate? How might the mode of communication (e.g., email, instant message, private wiki) be impacting group collaboration? What communication mode(s) might help Louisa's team communicate better? What feedback does Louisa need to provide Joan?

Scenario 2: Tone

Sandeep is the manager of a large team spread out across the globe. They work together to write textbooks for college courses. There are dozens of writers working on a textbook at any given time.

Sandeep's writers are very good about keeping in touch with him and each other. They email and use instant message to keep each other in the loop. They also work with a cloud document so that everyone can see and comment on everyone else's work in real time. Sandeep is proud of the fact that his team is in constant contact.

However, he has noticed one problem. Because there are a variety of cultures represented and because communication is mostly written, it can sometimes be difficult to read people's tone. Some writers are very polite and give feedback to others in a very roundabout way so that their feedback is not always understood as criticism. Others are very direct and can sometimes ruffle feathers when they criticize others' work.

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