On Virtual Team Training

Research and practical experience show that with training, workers can be more emotionally intelligent. Moreover, such training can yield positive results with only modest investments in time and capital (https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, May 29 2013). Problematically, less than 33% of companies provide a proper training framework for co-located employees. As well, less than 15% evaluate their training program effectiveness.

This training challenge is even more pronounced regarding virtual teams. 65% of virtual work teams report that they’ve never had a team building session (Cragan, Wright & Casch, 2009). One notable study found that many virtual teams need special leadership, that trust is essential, that team building exercises pay off, and that, unless a combination of high-tech and high-touch is maintained, performance peaks are often followed by declines in the productivity (Right Management, 2006).

To be productive, virtual teams need to trust each other. In order to trust, virtual team members must be self-aware, empathic, appreciate their differences, and communicate honestly. These are all soft skills. Indeed, those virtual teams who have participated in team building exercises scored significantly higher in leadership, decision-making and team performance. Problematically, usually there is not much time to build (trust) little by little because often the teams are short-lived in projects.

Nemiro (2004) identified eleven competencies for effective virtual teamwork.

Virtual Team Competencies
  • Developing an awareness of yourself and how you interact with others;
  • Developing and practicing supportive communication skills;
  • Building the ability to communicate effectively across cultures;
  • Resolving conflict effectively;
  • Problem solving and decision making skills;
  • Managing stress because virtual work schedules are often 24/7;
  • Time management and personal productivity skills;
  • Developing and motivating others – coaching and empowering;
  • Utilizing positive political skills to push ideas forward;
  • Knowledge management, data gathering, and information access skills; and
  • Developing ways to advance one’s career in the virtual workplace.

Ultimately, “virtual teams whose members spend time at the onset of their work getting to know each other, experience greater trust among members down the road, which facilitates the overall effectiveness of their working together“ (Martins & Shalley, 2009).

To amplify this observation further, “for every day their organization spends in the storming stage, inefficiencies abound, project deadlines are missed, and financial resources are drained without moving the organization forward…By spending a bit more time in the forming stage (where positive relationships begin), it is possible to actually shorten the amount of time required for the group to pass through the storming stage and move on to the norming and performing stages where real productivity and effort reside”.

There’ s a growing need for more responsive types of online training expressly for virtual team formation and deployment. Our original research has identified twenty best practices developed on an ad hoc basis and drawn from several different fields using virtual teams including business, the military, and healthcare. They involve revealing and engaging the “whole” person and team emotionally in an integral way at the very start of a project. These also share common characteristics involving the transformative power of serious play, games, and creativity.


Howard Esbin, PhDOn Virtual Team Training