Key Differences between Mangers of Co-located and Virtual Teams

Financial crunches across the globe have forced businesses to become very conscious about picking members of their project teams, which has contributed significantly in growing trend of virtual teams. That is why an increased number of businesses find refuge in virtual teams comprised of experts from various global locations, where communication is carried out through phone, email or videoconferencing, thus saving time as well as money.
However, working successfully with virtual teams is quite a different ball game, requiring much more dynamism in the leadership ability of managers. Here are some key differences between the Managers of Co-located and virtual teams.

1. Lead Differently

Co-located teams mostly rely on a leader who also acts a facilitator, determining the direction of the team and assigning different roles and jobs to the team members. Quite often, they can work along really well even with loose job descriptions, one member compensating for the other. Virtual teams on the other hand, cannot afford any ambiguities. The manager has to present a clear direction with strictly defined roles and responsibilities (including his/her own!) for effective communication among members scattered across various global locations.

2. Decide Differently

Decision making is one of the most crucial elements for success of a business, especially when you are dealing with teams rather than individuals. So, managers need to decide differently to make it work well for global teams.

There are different styles of decision making, and cultural values of a region seem to strongly influence the decision making style followed there largely. For example, managers in the U.S. prefer soliciting input from the whole team and then determine the direction quickly, making the adjustment as the project proceeds. However, decision making in Sweden takes much time due to the consensus building approach followed there, which might seem lengthy, but works well in the end because of the rapid implementation that follows through. The Japanese, on the other hand, prefer decisions based on one-on-one informal discussions prior to a formal group meeting.

When it comes to global teams, the best manager is the one who is open to multiple decision making approaches without any biases, so that he is well aware and capable of implementing the most effective one depending upon the circumstances in a project at any given time.

3. Build Trust Differently

Trust too, has a whole new dimension in dealing with virtual teams. In co-located teams, managers feel quite empowered in determining how and when to trust different individuals based on their frequent interaction with them. The managers of geographically distributed teams are deprived of such liberties. They need to rely on highly defined processes, which entail the team members to deliver particular results repeatedly over a period of time. Reliability or trust, in this case, cannot be established before two or three cycles. This seems to be the most logical way to limit face-to-face meetings among such teams to once or twice a year.

4. Communicate Differently

Last but not the least is the communication, determining the success or failure of a team. Experts are of the opinion that the efficacy or authority of communication suffers seriously in communicating virtually. Managers in co-located teams have the liberty to express authority and command in their communication via their physical presence. To compensate for this, managers of geographically dispersed teams need to be sharper and witty.


To conclude, managing virtual teams is much more demanding and tricky than managing co-located teams. The managers of geographically scattered teams not only need to carry a broader skill set, but they should also be good at switching between skill sets, depending upon how diverse their team members are and how far they are located from each other.

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