How to Manage Virtual Team Conflict

Virtual team

            A virtual team is described as a group of individuals undertaking similar activities collectively across time and space through the use of electronic communication technology. Currently, many companies have invested heavily in internet connection and trying to connect all employees using fiber optic, technological and software breakthroughs, thus enabling people to work together as one bigger global community(Ubell, 2010). Virtual team allow members to work together in different time zone, cultures and work environment. The number of people working together virtually in the world is increasing significantly. Statistics indicated that regular telecommunication grew by 61 % between 2005 and 2009, and based on these trends, it is estimated that the number of telecommunicating workers will increase to five million by 2016, which is an increase of 69 %.

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With the increasing internet connection and subsequent growth of telework which is also referred to virtual work, it is inevitable to witnessed the growth of people virtually working together from dispersed geographical location using advancing technology such as telephone, text messages, emails, videoconferencing and teleconferencing(Webster, & Wong, 2008). The effectiveness and efficiency of the virtual teams is influenced by the team dynamics such as the composition of the teams and proximity of the team members to one another. In addition, factors such as organization structure and culture, the dependency and complexity of the task as well as the use of information technology leads to conflicts. The conflicts arising from one virtual team to another differs greatly based on the prevailing factors.

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            The term conflict has been defined by many scholar using different ways over many years. Many scholars have argued that the key issue of conflict a rises when an individual in the groups fails to perform as expected. For example, individuals A in the group is fully aware of what is expected from him/her but refuses to conduct him/herself as required by an individual B who could be leader of the group(Skovholt, et al., 2014). Other scholars have argued that conflict arises when at least two inter-dependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce rewards, and interference from other party in achieving their goals.In simple terms, conflict is defined as serious disagreement over needs or goals.

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Sources of conflicts in virtual teams

            The way conflicts are managed in virtual team is very important because it determine the successes, effectiveness and efficiency of the team. Therefore, it imperative to explore factors that results to the conflict and how it can be resolved effectively. Studies have categories virtual team into four based on virtual dimension: spatial dispersion, temporal dispersion, cultural dispersions and organization dispersion(Nystrom, & Asproth, 2013). Each category has different and unique sources of conflicts

Spatial dispersal

This is the virtual team that composed of members working together without face-to-face supervision or interaction. The conflict arises when the team members finds it difficult to receive instructions or guidance from their supervisor or leaders. Also, conflicts arises when the team members lack the opportunity to seek clarification about their roles and tasks in the group(Lindsell-Robert, 2011). Although some of these sources of conflicts affects majorly the spatial dispersal team, they also contributes to conflicts in other types of teams. Among other factors, these are the major sources of conflicts in spatial dispersal.

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Temporal dispersal

Similarly to spatial dispersal, this type of virtual team composed of members working in disperse geographical location without face-to-face interaction or supervision. This means that the main source of conflicts are attributed to team members not receiving instructions or guidance from their supervisor and leaders(Johnson, et al., 2009). In addition, team members do not have the enough opportunity to seek clarification about their roles and tasks in group which is the situation in the face-to-face teams. These are the major sources of conflicts in temporal dispersal.

Cultural dispersion

This is the virtual team that composed of members from different backgrounds and cultures. Therefore, the major sources of conflicts are attributed majorly to diversified composition. Studies have indicated that team members could possesses varying communication styles, work style, personality and values. It is important to note that these factors are also sources conflicts in face-to-face team(Ebrahim, et al., 2009). However, they are very crucial in virtual team since team members are drawn from diverse communities and societies. In addition, lack of face-to-face interaction among the team members could be considered as the main reason why the cultural differences are so crucial in virtual team.

Organizational dispersion

This type of virtual team composed of members working virtually across organizational boundaries. The major source of conflict in organizational dispersion is the issues of identity(Brandt, et al., 2011). Studies have indicated that this type of virtual team faces challenges of developing cohesiveness since the members are drawn from different organizations. As a result, weak identity and lack of cohesiveness are the major sources of conflicts in organizational dispersion.

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Managing virtual team conflicts

            Managers play important role in ensuring that team conflicts are resolved amicably in order to develop trust and hold the team together. As a manager, there are five step that needs to be followed in team conflict resolution. It is important to clearly understand what each step entails. The first step involves the process of defining the problem.

Defining the problem

Studies have indicated that the process of defining a problem is the most challenging task that manager struggles to overcome on their daily basis. As a result managers tend to ignore this very important step and go straight problem solving. The consequence of such action leads to a more divided virtual group and subsequent more conflicts because the real problem has not been defined. It is crucial for the manager to understand that the process of defining the problem contributes to the establishment of solutions to the problems(Bulleit, 2006). Therefore, the first initiative that managers needs to undertake while managing virtual team conflict is to define the problem. Some of the approaches that manager may use to define the problem include noting down problem statement multiple times in various ways and from different perspective. This process is very important to the team since they get the opportunity to look at the problem from different perspectives. In face-to-face team, team interaction is the key success because team members would be able establish how the team operates. However, in virtual team members rarely get the opportunity to interact. Therefore, rules of engagement should be communicated clearly through internet.

Gather data

This is the second step which involve addressing virtual team conflict through gathering of data about the actual conflict that is taking place. it is very important for the managers to collect factual information about the problem and not the hearsay or opinions. These facts should be measurable and observable(Ubell, 2010). Some of the information could be gathered through first-hand experience by observing the proceeding of video conferencing, teleconferencing and telephone conversations. The purpose of gathering data is to substantiate and prove the truth about the problem.

Some of the information that needs to be collected include who is the informal leader, who lunches together, who is outside or inside the group, who goes extra mile, who initiates or come up with good ideas and who work independently. The other approach that manager may employ as part of gathering the data is to review the past actions by asking the following questions: what motivates each employee? Do managers and supervisors clearly understand job experience, skills and roles? Do I know my employees? How do I communicate with my team? How do they communicate with each other? These questions helps the managers to be objective and confident to analyze the problem considering that they might be part of the problem.

Analyze the data and diagnose

Prior to commencing data analysis and diagnosis, it is important for the managers to make sure that the data collected make sense. After establishing that the information collected was observable and verifiable, the managers can began the process of analyzing the data and determining what is happening within the team itself. In order determine team performance and dynamics, the manager needs to analyze and diagnose communication process by asking some questions that stimulate their thinking(Bulleit, 2006). The questions include determining whether the style of communication in the team was poor as well as establishing whether the team lack the skills requisite for problem-solving. The analysis and diagnosis of the data collected enables managers to establish a precise comprehension of the team dynamics.

Choosing the best solution

After the analysis and diagnostic of the data collected, the manager would have manage to identify the root cause of the problem. At this point the manager and the team would have identify the problem to be either communication or lack of skills. The best solutions are selected from the list of many solution proposed(Bulleit, 2006). This involves the process of relooking at the problem areas together with the issues. The solutions that can be tailored to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and holding the group together are considered the best solution.

Implementing the solution and continue to refine it

This is the final step that involves clear articulate of the ideas and thoughts, active listening, give effective feedback, think and analyze in methodical and systematic way as well as identify risks and assumptions(Brandt, et al., 2011). The process of implementing the solutions include modelling and coaching the team members to adopt the desired behavior.

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