In contemporary business environments, groups and teams are widely used for the creation of projects, planning, research, monitoring, assessment, and evaluation. The rapid development of technologies in the modern world has led to the appearance of teleworking. This means that there is a tendency of creating virtual offices that assume the collaboration of the employees who have never met in person and only communicate through the internet or phone. Virtual groups and teams require an individual approach since collaboration within them is rather different from that in groups and teams in brick and mortar offices.
Five Stages of Group Development in Virtual Teams
Studying psychology within groups at the workplace Bruce Tuckman identified five stages of group development, they are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (Eyre par. 1). The stage of forming is characterized as the initial stage when the group members are just getting to know each other. At this phase, the employees communicate in a reserved and polite way. In virtual groups, this stage may last longer than in real-life groups due to a lack of personal contact.
To avoid alienation and facilitate bonding within a team, the leader has to obtain an active role and encourage activities provoking sharing and communication. For instance, a leader may create a forum or a series of blogs where the team members would share their points of view, personal details, photographs. The role of a leader at the forming stage is to use all available technologies to enhance communication and contact within the team providing better relationships and understanding (Baglieri 2).
Overall, group development is defined as a level of maturity that appears overtime after team members get to know each other (Sarker and Sahay 248). It is why the stage of storming is essential. The storming phase is when the conflicts occur; they may be caused by the differences in the working styles of the team members or their disagreement with the leader’s practices (Eyre par. 7-8). Most groups fall apart at this phase, the ones that survive end up developing a better understanding know as the norming stage. Virtual clashes are different from those of real-life massive fights are almost impossible via chats, emails, or messengers, which is a benefit of teleworking. Yet, conflict resolution and mediation are seriously complicated by the distance.
The Norming stage is followed by performing, where the group functions effectively, these stages are similar in both virtual and real environments (Eyre par. 10-15). The stage of adjourning occurs after the group is disbanded, which is more common in the case of virtual teams since they are mostly created for temporary purposes.
Groupthink and Cohesion of Virtual Teams
Groupthink occurs when the members of one team tend to seek consensus with a cohesion that overrides the desire for solutions different from group decision-making (Das Behl par. 2). As problem-solvers, groups are more successful because they have access to more knowledge and information than individual workers (“Groupthink 2: Antecedent Conditions of Groupthink” par. 2). Besides, groups can identify strengths and weaknesses among the members, and function at full power, optimizing their efforts. For that groups are to have a positive internal atmosphere, agreement, and mutual understanding that is achieved through discussions and communication.
The problem of groupthink is that most groups develop an unofficial core with a dominant perspective which tends to shut down the ideas and original approaches of members who do not belong to the core. This phenomenon reduces the efficiency of groups. Just like traditional groups, virtual ones tend to develop majorities which add bias to the work of the whole team and make it disregard a portion of the suggested solution.
The main difference between the two types of teams is that in virtual groups members spend most of the time working individually, and this causes several peculiarities. First of all, groupthink is harder to achieve in virtual teams due to a lack of personal contact (especially if the members have never met each other). Secondly, there is more equality in virtual teams, so the cores are not as easy to shape as they are in traditional groups.
As a result, the leader relies on the agreement of the majority to make a final decision. This way, the work of virtual groups resembles a democratic collaboration of several people instead of having a homogenous personal identity-free character of a team driven by groupthink. In other words, virtual groups have a lower chance of achieving the level of cohesiveness typical for traditional teams. This happening is determined by a smaller amount of communication, and its quality (chatting, emailing, and messaging each other is slower and often does not allow deeper levels of bonding and mutual understanding between the team members).
Performance of Virtual Groups
In my opinion, virtual groups face all the same problems and challenges traditional groups have. Their development includes identical stages. At the same time, the disadvantages of virtual teams mainly are related to insufficient or complicated communication because the members of virtual teams work across long distances and time zones. Virtual groups are harder to build and form. The leaders of such teams are to be especially thorough when it comes to the facilitation of communication between the members.
A particular level of bonding does not only need to be achieved, it also has to be maintained, which assumes regular group activities of professional and recreational character. Due to the lack of bonding and personal contact virtual groups risk never developing groupthink.
Yet, this aspect carries some benefits securing virtual teams from the challenges that groupthink brings. One of the main disadvantages of cohesive collaboration is the pressure to conform, which deprives the team members of individuality and works as a filter of a large portion of new approaches and ideas (“Groupthink” par. 5). This way, virtual groups may be more democratic since they do not tend to develop dominant groups within the team and preserve the members’ autonomy and originality.
I believe that virtual groups are as efficient as traditional ones. Yet, establishing groups of both kinds, a manager is to keep in mind their strengths and weaknesses so that they can be used for appropriate tasks. For example, the projects that require groupthink and cohesion should be assigned to traditional teams, while those in need of original approaches – to virtual groups. Besides, the kinds of leaders suitable for the two types of groups also need to be selected carefully. Traditional groups require a leader who can choose a strategy and follow it, organizing the crew and virtual teams need a leader who will synthesize multiple ideas and ensure high-quality communication within the group.
Baglieri, Terry L. Getting the Most from Virtual Teams. 2008. Web.
Das Behl, Arpita. Groupthink: The Role of Leadership in Enhancing and Mitigating the Pitfall in Team Decision-Making. 2012. Web.
Eyre, Elizabeth. Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. 2015. Web.
Groupthink 2015. Web.
Groupthink 2: Antecedent Conditions of Groupthink. 2014. Web.
Sarker, Suprateek and Sundeep Sahay. “Understanding Virtual Team Development: An Interpretive Study.” Journal of the Association for Information Systems 3 (2002): 247-285. Print.