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What are the challenging characteristics to establish a Virtual Team?

Posted on August 1st, 2013 By Danial Javanmardi

I would like to share the challenging characteristics of a Virtual Team as well as the Email Bottleneck. I have been struggle with them for a while either as an individual freelancer or within a company. If you consider a company situated in different countries the concepts of virtual team plays significance role. To illustrate the virtual team comprehensively, There is a need to distinguish between Project, Program and Project-Oriented Organization. In the following paragraphs, I am going to explain them precede to the challenging characteristics of Virtual Team.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines project as “a piece of planned work or an activity which is completed over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular aim”. There are different definitions of project among different kind of sciences and fields. In terms of Project Management, “A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or could not be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists” (PMI, 2010).

A project consists of:
  • A goal or objective
  • A triple-constraint: Scope, Cost, and Time
  • A start and end date
  • A sponsor and stakeholders
  • Project phases (i.e. Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring &
    Control, and Closure)
  • Identified risks, mitigation strategy, and contingency plans
  • A design and requirements defining the details of the goal
  • A schedule of what will be done when by whom, often including interim
  • Functional and/or non-functional resources working on the project and
    testing implementation
  • A project manager

The Triple constraint of Project Management consists of scope, cost and time. This simply defines a combination of budget and scope of a project that need to be achieved by a specific time duration. These three constraints have direct impact on each other, it means could not change one of them without having effects on the others. Hence the balancing of them is extremely important to achieve a project.

Furthermore, Project Management Institute (PMI) defined nine knowledge areas of managing a Project Management consists of Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human resource, Communication, Risk, Procurement and Integration.


A program contains a group of projects or multiple projects under the name of a program. The projects under each program must follow constantly in order to achieve strategic benefits of a program. Haelen (2002) criticized that a program is not just a concept that shows the bigger projects. The main difference between a program and a project is the complexity of choosing projects that have strategic benefits for that program. On the other hand, if the projects under a program do not have any interdependencies to each other, the managing of them under the name of a program has no such a value for an organization.

Project-oriented Organization

Project-Oriented organization refers to an organization that the core business of the organization is highly depended on the success of projects and programs. Hence, it is necessary to return to the nature of an organization to distinct that organization. It is obvious that project delivery with high quality plays a significant role in these kinds of organizations. Mostly, IT organizations are considered as the project-oriented organization.

Virtual Team

Virtual teamwork is a new approach for people in organizations working together on projects. On a team, all of members of the team must communicate, coordinate, and collaborate to get the project done. However, while conventional teams accomplish this mainly through face-to-face interaction, Virtual Team predominantly uses information and communication technology to communicate, collaborate, share information, and coordinate their effort (Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1998).

Geographic dispersion of team members was identified as the most important feature of Virtual Teams. Although, this is not always a correct criterion, team members may be in the same building and geographic location but they choose to communicate and collaborate predominately through ICT (Pauleen, 2004). She cited in his study that only one (out of 33) Virtual Team never meet each other with face-to-face. The concept of virtual is the extensive use of ICT. For example, one virtual team could have 87% of the communication by using ICT and the rest could be face-to-face communication. This depicts they meet each other once a year or once a month.

Hertel, Geister, & Konradt (2005) defined Virtual Teams as “consist of (a) two or more persons who (b) collaborate interactively to achieve common goals, which (c) at least one of the team members works at a different location, organization, or at a different time so that (d) communication and coordination is predominantly based on electronic communication media”.

Information and Communication Technology facilitates effective communication and collaboration among team members. These technologies constitute of phones, fax machines, email, web forum, audio conference, video conference, instance message, documents sharing, knowledge sharing and other collaborative software and tools. Each one of these ICT tools has his own strengths and weaknesses.

Effective use of electronic communication and collaboration technology is fundamental to the success of a virtual team. However, the challenging characteristics for making Virtual Team consist of:

  • Team Size
  • Geographic Dispersion
  • Task Duration
  • Lack of Common Experience
  • Full-time or Part-time staff
  • Permanent or Contractor staff
  • Task Interdependency
  • Cultural Diversity
Virtual Team Roles and Responsibilities

It is important that roles and responsibilities define clearly in a project. There is no necessity that for each role and responsibility an individual is assigned. Indeed, individuals could have multiple roles and responsibilities in some circumstance.

The Email Bottleneck

The advance of web technology provides new media for team members to communicate with each other and also with the project management. It was taken around 25 years for email to be used pervasive worldwide in various industries (Becerik, 2006). Organizations, which could not promote the collaboration and communication further than email, confront the hidden cost and the lost opportunities, some of the email bottleneck could be mentioned as follows (Christopher, 2007) :

  • Take long time for joining members to have positively contribute to project
  • Lesson learns and individual experiences which cost for companies buried in personal email
  • Lose of opportunity to take advantage of knowledge sharing among team members

Organizational Project Management

Organizations need to run more projects rather than the past to decrease the cost and improve the quality. The interpretation of strategy into programs and projects recognize as the core business of Organizational Project Management. The aim of Organizational Project Management is to create value for business, not only deliver projects on time and within budget.

The complexities of managing interrelated projects across many criteria are a challenge of the traditional Project Management concept. A model for organizing that the main function of this model is to manage these interrelated projects as comprehensive has appeared. The main intention is to support project success across the organization level through the implementing and promoting the Project Management Methodology. It has more advantage to manage projects as a group in comparison to manage them individually.

In Addition, the performance of the entire organization is further than sub performance of each individual projects or programs. Aubry, Hobbs, & Thuillier (2007) defined Organizational Project Management as “a new sphere of management where dynamic structures in the firm are articulated as means to implement corporate objectives through projects in order to maximize value.” By this definition, they separated the Organizational Project Management from traditional one.

Further Resources:

  1. Harley, J. (2010). Collaboration and the Use of Online Collaborative Toolsets in the Project Management Environment. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business Vol. 4 No. 2, 345.
  2. Ali Javanmardi. (2013). Online Collaboration and Project Management, Master Degree Dissertation.
  3. Christopher, A. J. (2007). Tools for Teams: Beyond the Email Bottleneck. Digital Places.
  4. Pauleen, j. D. (2004). Virtual Teams Projects, Protocols and Processes. Idea Group Publishing.
  5. PMI. (2010). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
  6. Santosus, M. (2003). Why you need a Project Management Office. Retrieved from

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