Fifth Generation Work - Virtual Organization

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  This section provides definitions of leadership, characteristics and commitments of leadership, the notion of leadership attitude in today's world, and a comment on the first and last tasks of leadership. This information is presented as an introduction to the notion of leading virtual teams. Finally key findings about effective leadership and lessons from research for today's leaders is presented  
    This researcher defines leadership as "the art of influencing other people to act together to achieve shared goals."  
    The context of this definition is organizational project teams where small groups of people are selected or assigned to a project of relatively short duration and then reassigned after the completion of the project.  
    Joel Barker, in Paradigm Shift, defined leadership in this way. "A leader is a person you would follow to a place you wouldn't go by yourself."  
    Katzenbach and Smith, in Wisdom of Teams, suggests that attitude is a key factor in team leadership.  
    Team leaders genuinely believe that they do not have all the answers -- so they do not insist on providing them. The believe they do not need to make all key decisions -- so they do not do so. They believe they cannot succeed without the combined contributions of all the other members of the team to a common end -- and they avoid any action that might constrain inputs or intimidate anyone on the team.  
    John Gardner, in No Easy Victories, noted "the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive."  

Major research approaches

  1. Trait -- personal attributes of leaders (e.g. energy, honesty, ....)
  2. Behavior -- what do managers do, comparison of effective and ineffective leaders.
  3. Power / Influence -- influence processes between leader and follower.
  4. Situational -- context: how does it influence leader behavior (contingency)
  5. Participative -- power sharing, empowerment of followers
  6. Charismatic / Transformational -- influence, why followers follow
  7. Leadership in decision groups -- success

Leadership in virtual teams

  Some key findings for leadership in virtual teams:
  1. Virtual teams work.
  2. People can be trusted in a virtual environment.
  3. Virtual teams can be used in a variety of situations such as product development, telecommuting, company startups, and conference planning.
  4. Few teams are 100% virtual.
  5. Reward and recognize people for their accomplishments.
  6. Keep everyone informed.
  7. Encourage everyone to keep everyone else informed.
  8. Make progress towards goals visible.
  9. Formative stages, conflict resolution, team building, and rich interactive communication is best done in a face-to-face mode.
  10. Operational work can generally be performed in a virtual mode without much difficulty.

Well defined and agreed upon team basics are very important for virtual teams as well as traditional face-to-face teams. These basics include meeting agendas, a team mission statement, well defined roles and responsibilities, norms or a code of conduct, a project schedule, and periodic assessments towards progress.

Leadership is about making things happen and getting things done according to Peter Scholtes. It just takes more work in a virtual environment.

Leaders not only have to understand and master traditional leadership skills, but they also need to understand and be able to use the information and communications technologies that support virtual teams.

Finally, leaders need to understand and be able to work effectively in a virtual environment and know when to when to switch back and forth between face-to-face and virtual environments if and as necessary. For example:  Meeting in the formative stages of a teams life, to resolve conflict, to build trust, to have highly interactive sessions, and to celebrate accomplishments is best done in a face-to-face mode. Meeting virtually in routine stages of a team's life is done and can be done without major difficulty.

Date last revised:
June 05, 2006
David Gould, Ed.D.
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