Today’s organizations are spanning geographic and departmental boundaries. Increasingly people — especially white collar professionals — are on teams whose members don’t all work in the same location. Telecommuting and cross-functional/regional/country collaboration are adding to this growing trend.The Invisible Workforce

The international training company, AchieveGlobal, has just published a study looking at leading virtual teams. Among its research findings:

  • “86 percent of senior executives believe it is ‘extremely important’ for them to work effectively across boundaries in their current leadership roles, yet, only 7 percent of these executives believe they are currently ‘very effective’ at doing so.
  • 91 percent cite working across boundaries as important at the middle management level, but only 19 percent agree that middle managers were effective at it.”

Technology provides powerful tools for leading virtual teams. But as anyone in our family will tell you about my handyman abilities, a great tool can be destructive in unskilled hands. Technology tools allow us to leverage strong leadership skills or broadcast our lack of “soft skills.”

AchieveGlobal’s study found that problems with virtual teams often come from lack of planning, and communication that isn’t a true two-way conversation. This is all too symptomatic of poorly used technology such as e-mail, that’s often called “communication” but is really a one way information dump.

Successful virtual leadership comes from integrating group cohesion and individual commitment. Drawing from

“more than 30 years of research conducted by Dr. Edward Deci and others — collectively called ‘Self-Determination Theory’ (SDT) — confirms that people share three fundamental psychological needs, regardless of culture: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Satisfaction of these needs optimizes employee motivation and raises productivity. When these needs are thwarted, healthy functioning plummets.

    • Competence – Feeling valued as knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced
    • Relatedness – Collaborating with trusted colleagues and co-workers
    • Autonomy – Exercising self-control, within guidelines, to achieve business goals

 The role of the leader is to create the conditions that allow team members to satisfy these needs.”

These are core values, behaviors, and leadership skills badly lacking in many organizations. The “soft skills” really are the hardest and most critical skills that determine the success or failure of any type of team.

Go to The Invisible Workforce to read the AchieveGlobal report.