Have you ever wondered if your skills will become outdated? Sure you can still get gigs but is there something new that would help you get more lucrative gigs faster? Well the short answer is yes. The workplace is changing too quickly for this not to be the case. One set of new skills that will be increasing in demand across a wide range of organizational roles is virtual teamwork skills.

Virtual Teamwork

A recent American Society for Training and Development survey of learning professionals found that while 99% of their companies use virtual groups only 20% offer training for those leading or participating in them. So what makes up these skills and how might someone work to pick them up?
The best way to learn is by doing so seek out experience in virtual groups wherever you work and consider these tips for success:

  • Consciously step out from the common electronic norm of sticking to business and disclose some personal information about how you are approaching the work and why. This is most effective when it is done within the natural flow of the work. One of the dynamics that is stronger in virtual groups is the tendency to fall into “we”-“they” dichotomies. After all, team members are in different places and have different pressures and mindsets. It’s too easy to explain differences in negative ways that can lead to more conflicts. Self disclosure, particularly explaining why you approach certain parts of the task the way you do, can encourage others to explain their actions and beliefs. Asking questions in an information seeking/non accusatory way also helps to build the understanding needed for good teamwork when not face-to-face.

  • Articulating the goals of the teamwork regularly also can be helpful. People are busy and more connected to their surroundings than the virtual group. Variety here helps to make this more than rote reiteration. For example, highlighting the positive effects you expect or describing the role particular tasks play in accomplishing the larger goal.

  • If your virtual group involves people from different cultures, learn something about those cultures – two good resources for that are http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html which describes basic value differences among countries and internet searches about different cultures can be helpful as well. Also, if the group is multicultural try to structure the work to account for different language facility by providing written as well as oral documents; in addition building time and opportunity into decision-making so that those who need time to think and/or understand the details can participate effectively.

  • The point of cross functional/multi-location/cross cultural teams is that diversity of various types can lead to better decisions about specific tasks. But that process is naturally going to involve conflict. Welcome conflict and frame it as one of the main purposes of the team as well as a way to build the strength of the team through increased understanding. Use the experiences of explaining differences as a way to move through the conflict in a positive manner.

When you are part of a virtual team be active and experiment with these tips. Build virtual teamwork skills into your list of skills.


ASTD: Virtual Leadership Whitepaper based on the report Virtual Leadership: Going the Distance to Manage Your Teams.

Reducing Faultlines in Geographically dispersed Teams: Self-disclosure and Task Elaboration by Chiu & Staples, Small Group Research, 2013, vol.44.


Sally Power, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and personal consultant accelerating successful career transitions.

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