Virtual Teams: Bridging The Gap Between Expectation & Performance


The Human Capital Institute and Capella University recently co-presented a webinar “Virtually Not Forgotten: Effective Engagement Strategies for Remote Employees”. Some 300 U.S. companies participated in the initial survey. The response to two of the survey questions is revealing. (1) “What does your organization do to make sure its remote workers are engaged and productive?” (2) “If you have the remote work option at your organization, what is the number one benefit experienced?” For the first question, 31% of respondents said technology (audio and/or video conferencing) was key to ensuring employee engagement and productivity. Yet only 11% referred to providing training for employees and just 9% for managers. The responses to the second question are also revealing in that the top benefit identified by 33% of respondents is a “better perception…of work-life balance”. This is followed by “higher productivity” at 21%. However, “increased manager and employee trust” trails as a benefit at only 7%. This reveals a large discrepancy. There is a significant focus on “high tech” but not enough on ‘high touch’ solutions for virtual team engagement and productivity.
HCI slide

HCI remote benefits


A gap exists between management expectations of virtual team capacity and actual performance. In one global study, 27% of virtual teams were found to be not fully performing (Onpoint Consulting, 2010). Another study revealed only 18% of seventy global business virtual teams were found to be highly successful (Siebdrat, Hoegl & Ernst, 2009). Essentially, 80% of virtual teams are performing significantly below capacity. Unsurprisingly, 19 out of 20 “executives say they have experienced difficulty in managing virtual teams” (Dachis Group, 2013). “The financial cost of this gap is enormous due to lost productivity, missed deadlines, declining morale, and failure to innovate” (Lepsinger, 2014).

In virtual teaming, there are no natural equivalents to informal ‘water cooler’ exchanges, which enable co-located team members to get to know each other better. Consequently, “many organizations recycle the same guidelines and best practices they use for co-located teams and hope for the best. Frankly, that just doesn’t work. Virtual teams and face-to-face teams are the proverbial ‘apples and oranges’ (Onpoint Consulting, 2010). Moreover, virtual team experience is more concentrated and accelerated given the short duration of most projects.


There’ s a growing need for more responsive types of online training expressly for virtual team formation and deployment. Problematically, 65% of organizations using virtual teams provide no training at all. Our original research has identified twenty best practices drawn from several fields including business, the military, and healthcare. These practices involve engaging the “whole” person and team emotionally in an integral way at the start of a project. These also share common characteristics such as using the transformative power of serious play, games, and creativity.


Our enterprise has launched a virtual team game called Prelude that accelerates trust prior to the start of a new project or training program. The game uniquely integrates these twenty virtual team best practices in one solution combining a proprietary psychometric with a creative process. All professional sports teams and orchestras practice prior to the main event. However, research shows virtual project teams are not afforded this opportunity. “Virtual strangers” are simply expected to become high performing teams cold. Playing Prelude is like a project rehearsal in game form. Team members literally and metaphorically draw together through a series of short interactive modules.  They become much better able to identify and apply diverse strengths, talents, and assets in a cohesive, purposeful way. As well, Prelude can help new teams assess, quickly and easily, whether they have the right balance of temperaments and skills needed to realize their project goals. For more information, please visit

Howard Esbin, PhDVirtual Teams: Bridging The Gap Between Expectation & Performance