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David Gittings


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Leading virtual, dispersed and remote teams


This subject is of growing interest to clients.  It has been included for several years in a leadership program that I run and I recently designed and facilitated a webinar on it.  I feel that I need to be clearer about what I mean if I am to train others in leading virtual, dispersed and remote teams.  Looking at what has been written on the subject ‘virtual’ is commonly used to describe ‘virtual’ and ‘dispersed’ (see below) teams.  I think that this is because 'virtual' is a cool word to use, as opposed to being the 'correct' word.

So to start with 3 definitions -

1. Group – defined as a number of individuals who;
·      interact with each other,
·      have a common purpose,
·      are aware of each other.

2. A Team is a special kind of group, the above characteristics also apply to teams, plus team have;
·      a common goal or task to pursue which,
·      requires collaboration and the co-ordination of activities among the team's members,
·      with the team members having regular and frequent interactions with each other.

3. Virtual ‘almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition’

Distinguishing between the three types of team –

Virtual Team – typically a temporary team, for example a project team, where the majority of team members report to someone with respect to their project responsibilities while the team member’s line manager retains overall responsibility for them.  An individual may be a member of several virtual teams at the same time, while still having a reporting line to their line manager. Virtual teams may meet face to face or using technology, if the latter they would be a virtual-dispersed team.

Dispersed Team - groups of geographically, organizationally and / or time dispersed workers brought together by information and telecommunication technologies to accomplish one or more organizational tasks, who have a clearly defined structure and leadership

Remote Team – a team where the majority of team members are located at a site other than where the designated leader is located.

The challenges in leading a virtual or dispersed team are somewhat different, mainly due to reporting lines, but with some common issues.

Your thoughts?

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for the clarity you

    Thank you for the clarity you have provided to underpin my knowledge when working with different teams on a project.

    Kind regards


  2. Good definitions!

    Thank you for these really helpful definitions. I sell a workshop called Managing Remote Teams, but being familiar with the material, I think it should perhaps be renamed as Managing Dispersed Teams, which is perhaps the most common form these days. The leadership skills required in each case are clearly different.

    Louise Gelsthorpe

    Power Hour (Bite size) Training

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David Gittings

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