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Virtual teams are groups of individuals spread across the globe and in different time zones that use specific software and electronic communication technology to interact with each other, to effectively perform work related tasks, hence the term "virtual team" or graphically dispersed teams (GDTs) (Sessa, Hansen and Pretridge, 1999).
(Virtual team, 2007, ¶ 8) suggests there are different types of virtual teams;
• Networked team – individuals who get together to work on a particular task for a given purpose.
• Parallel teams – quick fixers who make recommendations to improve a system or process.
• Project or Product-development teams – Work on projects within time constraints for users or customers.
• Work or production teams - Carry out regular and continuous work, normally in one function.
• Management teams – Work collaboratively on a daily basis.
• Action teams – activated in quick response to an (mostly) emergency situation.
Lifecycle of a team
According to Brown, Huettner and James-Tanny (2007) the lifecycle stages of virtual teams consists of;
• Forming: Exciting trial balloon phase
• Storming: Various challenges will arise
• Norming: With teambuilding and with use of protocols and processes, things settle down, and every-one knows what’s expected of them
• Performing: Team works well together
• Testing: Specifications and other features are verified and tested.
• Adjourning: Finish up, evaluation; prepare to move onto other things.
An effective team has a shared team focus, expertise, capability and desire to do it Brown et al (2007).
Reasons for a Virtual team
• Perfect platform for individuals to collaboratively work on a task.
• Expands a company’s potential employee base to scope for various and skilled talent.
• Keep up with changing technological advances.
• Growing globalisation of organisations (Virtual team, 2007).
• Perform specialised tasks/projects with a concentrated group of highly skilled individuals who could otherwise not be brought together due to real world issues.
• Competitive advantage.
• Allows people of different parts of the globe to work together and gets around time-zone, cultural and disability differences (Virtual team, 2007).
• Reduces company costs, such as travel, office space, and overhead expenses.
• Prospective global marketing of products, services with fresh ideas from individuals with “inside” geographical and market knowledge.
It is hard to replicate the atmosphere that creates trust within the virtual environment, according to Edwards and Wilson (2001) this is the defining factor as to whether or not 1 year after the initial input of the virtual team programme whether participants continue to collaborate, and take ownership over tasks. It is found participation slumps after a year if team building does not take place.
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Some evidence from Geber; Handy (as cited in Sessa et al., 1999) suggests that Virtual teams hinder the development of trust, or that its developed in a different way Coutu; Jarvenpaa, Knoll & Leidner (as cited in Sessa et al, 1999), which according to Brown et al (2007) is crucial for unblocking communication between team members and staying motivated.
Development of trust without the usual face to face contact, needs to be expressed and built up through electronic means, very hard to do, but not impossible.
Although virtual teams may communicate less then co-located teams the content of this communication is more work related and critical to the team’s success and effectiveness.
Expressing through instant messaging, email, and chat boards can be hassle on normal days in the office, text-based communication cannot replicate body language or tone of voice, which according to (McMahon, 2001) is the main way we interpret the spoken message, in a virtual team text-based communication is the major form used between team members.
The communication issue, compounded by the diverse nature of cultures, traditions and people can become a platform for chaos, therefore proper communication protocols need to implemented to counter this problem.
• Communication tools like instant message (IM), web cams, webEx, calendars, and emails require a user-friendly environment, which is interoperability for effective and easy use. platform where every-thing a team member requires to communicate.
• Computer hardware and peripheral devices should be relatively up-to-date to guard against potential compatibility failure.
• Reliable Internet Service Providers with 24 hr help desk.
• Facilitating team communication.
• Effective project and task management.
• Effective time management procedures.
• Clear communication processes and procedures.
• Appropriate project/task tracking procedure.
• Assessment and acknowledgment of team performance.
As well as being organised, it is critical for the team’s success to follow set processes as outlined in company process’s manual
Protecting information from accidental or intentional interference.
Unreliable, untried software may be full of “bugs”, which can cause system failure.
It is recommended that software developed by 5 Point Ag called Teamspace be used, this perfect web-based package of collaborative communication tools uses a professional user-friendly GUI interface that is very simple to use, and has interoperability built-in, with worldwide access to;
• Calendar: displays dates, issues and tasks related to a specific team. Also has automatic reminders and can be exported into Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.
• Contacts: Holds company, team addresses and websites relevant to team. Can also be exported to Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.
• Outlook synchronization: allows input of an appointment into Microsoft Outlook that always gets added to Teamspace calendar using “teamSync” function and advanced file sharing options.
• Share calendar and contacts easily with team members.
• Innovation Forum: a way of discovering new ideas from within different teams (brainstorming), ideas are rated and final acceptance of an idea is available.
• Project and task management: easily manage separate team tasks, and lets team members easily view what tasks they are to do. Easily keep a track of who is responsible for particular tasks.
• File sharing and exchange: team members have access to team files at any time, and are informed when new versions of same file become available (RSS feeds).
• Public pages: publish files, contacts or calendar events on the internet.
• SMS: send short messages online to team members all over the world, making your team members contactable even away from the PC or other mobile technology.
• Chat: all members can chat in their own team chatroom to discuss ideas, themes, and other work related topics, and automatically lets you know when other members have entered the room. Chat can also be automatically documented.
• Discussion forum: a powerful tool for solving problems and supports time-delayed exchange between team members. This is especially suitable for structured topics and over a longer time amongst bigger groups.
• Brainstorming and idea evaluation:
Notice board and Bulletin
Teamspace uses the latest Secure Socker Layer (SSL) technology to protect information, however due to the large size of the organisation, and the sensitive nature of most documents and other material of Pharmaceuticals firm, it is highly recommended that an Enterprise Server License be purchased, this allows installation of Teamspace on our own servers affording the same security, backup and responsibility of this data as with existing company information.
Pharmaceuticals firms will also benefit from the Enterprise Server License with a customised login page, which can be incorporated into the firms existing website.
5 Point Ag released Teamspace software in 2001; reputable companies like BMW, BBC, Phillips and BP already use Teamspace.
The environment can be personalised to team and/or individual requirements and has built in activities list making it a perfect tool for the team leader to stay updated on how the project is moving and team/ individual performance.
It is capable of branching off into different areas of an organisation, allowing public or private access to certain areas of the environment (as set by administrator).
Requirements are minimum specs:
• Pentium III processor with at least 800 MHz
• System memory with least 512 MB
• Hard disk (depending on size of File storage) with at least 40 GB (5 Point Ag, 2008).
Once login and password has been assigned team members should follow these procedures to ensure consistent use of Teamspace tools;
a. Sending; use proper punctuation and keep them brief
b. Receiving; Identify urgency and reply according, else a normal time frame to respond is within 24 hours (as per your own time zone).
a. Use only after 2 weeks of contact with fellow team members, as senders intent is not easy apparent to receiver.
b. Sender; abbreviations and short text types are acceptable.
c. Receiver; see 1.b
3. For potentially difficult conversations video-conferencing or telephone is the best way to communicate.
4. Time-zone courtesy’s
a. Team leader will take into account each members time zone and virtual meetings will be timed accordingly, however should there be an extremely inconvenient timed-zone for a minority the minority will concede, if there is even portions of team members to be extremely inconvenienced then virtual meeting times will alternate per month.
b. There are no restrictions on email sending times; however Sender should not expect immediate reply.
c. Instant messaging can be the most immediate responsed way to communicate to each other, team members will instantly be alerted to other online participants.
5. Please ensure your member profile is always up-to-date, as this helps other members understand who, what and where you are, and helps towards the team building process.
6. Calendar, view regularly as provides a visual outline of expected and coming tasks/projects, virtual meeting dates/times and other such interactive activities.
7. Share calendar and contacts as required.
8. Participation within the Innovation Forum is required, your ideas are critical to the success of this environment.
9. Project and task management, view daily as this area displays tasks you have been assigned.
10. Files marked Confidential must not be shared or exchanged internally or externally.
11. Participate in all team building exercises, as these are an important aspect of team success.
12. Any matters arising please seek advice from your assigned team helper.
13. Refer environment suggestions, complaints, report abusive behaviour, communication defects and other matters arising to your team leader.
14. Refer to your hardcopy of “start-up kit” (sent to you by you team leader) if your network system fails, or other unexpected occurrence happens (contains contacts and helpful information).
15. If in doubt please contact your assigned team helper.
It can be concluded that based on this report that the Pharmaceuticals firm should implement Teamspace software with the Enterprise Server License feature.
Process recommendation directives should be followed by virtual team members to guarantee consistent use of Teamspace tools.
The combination of Teamspace software and process recommendations completely addresses communication, logistics, project and personal management, security, and software challenges, creating the most supreme environment for any new Virtual team to participate in, and exceeds the firms expectations of improving communication between the R&D department, and different teams within the firm.
5 Point Ag. (2008). Teamspace. Retrieved April 5, 2008, available from http://www.teamspace.com/index.html
Brown, M., Huettner, B, James-Tanny, C. (2007). Managing virtual teams: getting the most from wikis, blogs, and other collaborative tools. Texas: Wordware.
Edwards, A., & Wilson, J. R. (2004). Implementing virtual teams: a guide to organizational and human factors. Aldershot, Hants, England: Gower. Available from http://www.google.com/books?id=oRPmZQT dIkQC&printsec=frontcover&lr=&sig=kT4Wm21GGPg5g0DJ22WtKI29Br4
McMahon, P. (2001). Virtual project management: software solutions for today and the future. New York:Crc press. Available from http://www.google.com/books?id=O0YdDBqAGoAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0
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Warkentin, M. (2001). Business to business electronic commerce: Challenges and solutions. USA: Idea. Retrieved April 4, 2008 from Safari database.