Global leaders often must manage virtual teams whose members have widely diverse cultural backgrounds, and who will face challenging—sometimes maddening—logistical and technical frustrations. Consequently, global virtual teams tend to be more difficult to lead than teams made up of employees working in the same office.
Global team leaders know there’s no single formula for success, but as Harvard Business Reviewsuggests, you can gain a solid foundation by starting with the right team composition. After all, a benefit of cross-cultural virtual teamwork is that a global team leader can choose from a wider talent pool!
But choosing a team member solely on the basis of a great resumé for the job at hand may not always be the best choice. In that approach, global virtual teams may end up with the technical skills necessary to get the job done but without other necessary skills—so they may struggle with isolation, language barriers, or cultural issues.
Strong global leaders can improve their odds of success by finding candidates with the right balance of skills and abilities to lay a solid foundation for their team. While there’s no set formula for finding that balance, here are four skills global leaders should look for to help build strong virtual teams.
Global Leaders Rely on Cross-Cultural Communication Skill
Strong communication skills are important to the success of any team, and that need is amplified for global virtual teams. Not only do global teams miss out on the face-to-face interactions of a local office environment, they commonly face intercultural communication challenges and language barriers. So global leaders should look for team members with at least a basic understanding of the team’s primary language and a solid foundation in the challenges of intercultural communication.
While there’s nothing wrong with informal language, in a cross-cultural setting, it may make some people feel uncomfortable because they’re accustomed to more formal language. However, the use of “slang” and other colloquial expressions should be limited because they can make messages more difficult to comprehend for non-native speakers. Without appropriate cross-cultural awareness training, team members may not even realize when they’re using colloquial language.
Virtual Team Members Must Work Independently
Virtual team members don’t interact as much as workers in a typical office environment. Office colleagues collaborate often, sometimes without even realizing it. Think about how often team members might ask each other simple questions like “what are you working on?” when they can see each other. Frequent check-ins are the norm when everyone is in close proximity, but require a lotof emails in a virtual environment—not to mention immediate presence from everyone on the team regardless of time zone.
So global leaders should look for team members who are self-motivated and self-disciplined. Even if they don’t have prior global virtual team experience, if they can stay on task and express a readiness to ask for help when needed, chances are they’ll be a good fit.
Virtual Teams Face Unique Challenges
Global virtual teams can experience high-pressure situations without the ability to get immediate feedback or information, so it’s important team members can work well under stress. The best virtual teams can comfortably make decisions and manage conflict in spite of distance, time zones, and language differences, but it’s not easy. Of course, the ability to thrive under pressure isn’t always apparent when selecting team members, so the team leaders should explicitly describe team norms and expectations when inviting participants to join.
Tech-Savviness Goes a Long Way
Finally, global virtual teams wouldn’t exist without today’s communications technologies, so team members should be open to—or better yet, experienced in—using them. Candidates don’t necessarily need to be expert in the use of the team’s dominant communication platform, for example, but they should be ready and willing to learn the tech quickly. Otherwise, team frustrations can arise.
Working on a virtual team is challenging, and global team leaders may have the added challenge of choosing team members. By bringing on workers who are ready to face the challenges of cross-cultural virtual work with strong communication skills, the ability to work independently and under pressure, and a knowledge of communication techniques, global leaders can improve the odds that the team they build will be a high-performing team.