3 Characteristics of Successful Virtual Teams

Virtual TeamIf you don’t work as part of a virtual team on a regular or occasional basis, chances are you have colleagues or friends who do. Fifteen years ago it was a different story. I remember asking my boss at the time if I could telecommute one day a week. I have a 40 mile (one way) commute to the office and spend nearly two hours a day driving back and forth to work. I argued that I could spend those two additional hours working, not driving. The answer? A resounding “no.” Even though the technology at the time could support it, culturally our organization wasn’t ready. My, how times have changed!

There is a wide variety in the definition of what comprises “working virtually.” It can include those who work full-time from home, part-time telecommuting, and everything in between. Regardless of the amount of time you or co-workers spend working off-site, virtual teams have unique needs that need to be addressed if they are to reach their maximum potential and effectiveness.

All successful virtual teams have three common characteristics: trust, attentiveness, and communication.

Trust – Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship and it’s even more important when building relationships virtually. Without the benefit of regular face to face contact (or any face to face contact), virtual teams have to be much more intentional about focusing on building trust. There are four core elements of trust: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Virtual team members can build trust by demonstrating competence in their responsibilities, integrity in their actions, care by developing personal relationships with colleagues, and dependability by following through on commitments.

Attentiveness – It’s easy to “check out” or fly under the radar when working on a virtual team. Without the benefit of face to face communication, virtual team members have to work extra hard at being attentive through their verbal and electronic interactions. Leaders of virtual teams have to be diligent about encouraging participation, dealing with conflict, and appropriately rewarding and recognizing team members.

Communication – Body language adds tremendous context to communication with some studies suggesting it comprises more than 55% of the message transmitted…and virtual teams miss out on that (unless you regularly use webcams which I highly recommend). Virtual team members have to work diligently on their tone of communications (written and verbal) and learn to be more perceptive of the emotional content of the message being communicated.

Trust, attentiveness, and communication are essential characteristics of virtual teams and there are a number of strategies leaders can employ to develop these attributes in their teams. To learn more, I encourage you to download our free white paper, Achieving Excellence, Virtually.

Feel free to share your comments, tips, and suggestions on how you foster success in your virtual teams.

Randy Conley is the V.P. of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts normally appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

11 thoughts on “3 Characteristics of Successful Virtual Teams

  1. The freedom of working virtually is only an advantage when coupled with accountability. Also, don’t be afraid to “test drive” a virtual team member. Great blog!

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  3. Great post Randy! As a global leader we have to deal with virtual collaboration as a key success factor for our engineering efforts. You hit on 3 critical aspects, and I would like to add a forth…Measurable Objectives.

    To build the trust and to encourage the attentiveness & communications, the team must have common goals and objectives set that are measurable. Maintaining the metrics allows the team to visible see progress and to allow the team to have a common target for collaboration efforts. Thanks for the great insight!

    • Great addition Keith! It’s critically important for any team, especially virtual teams, to have clear goals and measurable objectives to keep everyone rowing at the same tempo in the same direction.

      Thanks for adding your insights.


  4. Another important characteristic of virtual teams is the fact that you have often to deal with different cultures. So my suggestion is to clarify and have a common understanding of work related terms like timing, responsibility, measurement of objective achieved and so on. The western way of asking: “Who is reponsible, doing what, until when?” leads very often to collateral misunderstandings.

    • That’s excellent advice Johannes. Appreciating and understanding the the cultural characteristics of the virtual team can make or break the success of the team.


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  6. Great post Randy. For a virtual team to be successful, I believe in communication and common understanding because you are working/meeting different people with different skills while your client may have a specific goal they want to attain. That’s where communication, respect and common understanding is needed most.

  7. Pingback: 3 Characteristics of Successful Virtual Teams | Nader Ale Ebrahim

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