The Advantage of Virtual

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 13, 2009 in: Just Blogging, Working Virtually

Patrick Lencioni is wrong.

Oh, he seems like a nice enough guy, and his books (Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, or Death by Meeting are decent enough books), but in a recent article with Forbes he seemed to take a stand against virtual teams. In the article “When you Absolutely Can’t Meet Face to Face“, Lencioni is interviewed by Terry Waghorn about virtual teams, virtual meetings, and virtual work.

Lencioni talks about “the challenges of being dispersed” and he says “no single tool or device can replace face-to-face interaction” and “a virtual team needs to acknowledge that its being distributed is a disadvantage” and “there is simply no substitute for sitting down face to face with your team to solve problems in real time”. That’s not right at all. Virtual teams are not at a disadvantage.

Here’s why I think Lencioni is wrong. If you go into a business relationship assuming that the virtual team is at a disadvantage, all of the disadvantages will be highlighted. But a face-to-face connection has its disadvantages, too! Rather, I think businesses should simply accept the circumstance they’re in – virtual, face-to-face, or mixed – and embrace it.

Here’s why I think virtual teams are better:

  • Virtual teams create highly collaborative and work focused meetings. In my experience, the right leader with the right technology can get far more accomplished in a virtual collaboration than in a face-to-face collaboration. (The “right leader” needs to be in control of the meeting and the “right technology” needs to work consistently and allow everyone equal access.)
  • Virtual teams save costs and time. There is no traveling time, there is little or no meeting costs (aside from any meeting technology you’re using). This increases the amount of time that people have to be productive. That is a win in my books.
  • Virtual teams can speed up projects. Teams that are dispersed across timezones can give more attention to a project than teams that are stuck in a single project. If I work on a project when I start work (in the Eastern timezone) and pass it off successfully to those in subsequent timezones, the project gets much more attention each day than if several of us try to work concurrently on the project in a single timezone.

I understand what Lencioni is trying to say: He wants teams to connect relationally. However, I believe you can still do that successfully through virtual tools. And, on balance, I believe more gets done at a lower cost with the right leader leading a virtual team.

Good Luck and Happy Blogging!

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