IPMA International Project Management Association
16 April 2018 / 7:07

Three Common Mistakes In Managing Virtual Teams

Author: Peter Ivanov (http://www.peter-ivanov.com/)

Virtual Teams are everywhere now – from home office workers to workers in offices in multiple locations and teams embedded in large global corporations.

According to Forrester Consulting 81% of Teams are distributed across multiple locations.

Often when a Projects team is dispersed they suffer delays and sometimes complete failure. International investments are put at Risk due to the intercultural issues or simply because the team members feel isolated and unmotivated.

What are the 3 most common Mistakes of managing virtual teams?

What are the 3 areas, which if addressed correctly can raise your Virtual Team performance exponentially?

Mistake one: Neglect the importance of Personality

Often Managers of virtual teams say:
“People do not meet anyway. Why should I bother to get to know them deeper as individuals? The ones that want to engage can always get in contact privately.”

In virtual teams the opportunity for face-to-face communication is highly limited. The ability to get to know each other, sharing enthusiasms and personal histories in a “coffee machine” type of conversation is highly reduced.
Therefore many managers ignore the unique personality potential of their Team members as a factor for improving performance.
Taken to the extreme the People in the virtual team become anonymous and are considered only as “resource” bringing specific skills set and delivering particular results.

In every Team – Local or Virtual, the key success factor is Trust.
Trust has two aspects – Personality and Professional Competence i.e. how well the individual team members know each other, and of course how well they contribute their professional competence!

If you understand your Team members well – i.e. what makes their heart sing in life, what they enjoy, and what energizes their work, you are much better enabled to support and lead them despite the distance.


Do you know your virtual team’s personal interests, passions and strengths?
How can unique personalities of each team member find expression in the Team?
How do you sustain interpersonal relationships over time and build on them for team success?

Mistake two: Communication happens ad hoc or is Manager centric

Have you felt bored during a Virtual Team phone conference?

Often Virtual Teams only call a Team conference when urgent issues arise.
And on these calls – often it is the Manager who does the bulk of the talking.
Debate based on trust and practice – has to relent to the manager’s monologue.
Another regular example– is experienced at ‘quarterly updates’ – where the manager presents facts and figures to a slightly bored work team who are easily distracted by other work issues

How can you break this “boredom” pattern?

Give everyone on the Virtual Team a responsibility to deliver during the call.
Let everyone have his or her own slot. Let them report back on their issues and debate their causes. Make sure the time agenda allows everyone fair time slots.

Let people report personal and professional highs and lows since last call.
This is the “salt”, the essence – to creating empathic and dynamic team relationships and how you can sustain and develop the interpersonal relationships over time.

The Fusion of Personal and Professional; formal and informal, input and debate is the antidote to Boredom

Having shared structured team communication plans nurture the interpersonal relationships and encourages Team unity and momentum.


Do you have a plan for your Team conference calls?
How often should you have regular updates for your team?
How can you raise the level of participation for each team member?

Mistake three:
Lack of Reward for outstanding Success

Often virtual team managers take Performance of their teams for granted. Reward is reflected in salary or Individual Bonus but there is nothing exiting to further ignite the flame of Top performance.
People want to be heroes. They like to be part of a great-united Team that achieves a miracle.
In my own management practice I’ve witnessed multiple “miracles”, many examples of where an Appealing Prize has inspired Teams to deliver phenomenal results.

Prizes do not need to be monetary – Tickets to Industry – top events, access to celebrities – All sort of highly appealing Prizes can trigger team inspiration.

There are cautions before you set up your Aspirational Prize:
Often Mangers offer a reasonable Prize but expect exceptional Performance. The Prize has itself to be extraordinary and the Manager can afford it since the cost of delay is often significantly higher than the cost of really appealing prize.

Enticing prizes, offered well in advance and creative progress reports can lead to phenomenal performance and results.


Does your team have Prizes for extraordinary achievements?
What event, travel destination or recognition of success would inspire your Team to go that extra mile?
How can you creatively report your Collective Goal progress?

Combining the 3 factors:

  • Personality: support the unique potential of the Individual
    Structured Communication: nurture Trust between Team
    Appealing Prize reward for outstanding performance
    – All can unleash incredible energy in a virtual team and inspire it to deliver phenomenal results.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.