Research & Thought Leadership

How to avoid conflicts in virtual teams globally

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If you’re managing a global team, you’ll observe that the collaboration and sharing between team members with diverse backgrounds and cultural differences often lead to perspectives that foster innovation and growth. You’ll also observe that such international teams come with their own set of challenges and dysfunctional conflicts in the workplace, online and offline. That’s why managers need to be aware of the factors that create these conflicts in virtual teams and understand how best to respond.

Conflicts in virtual teams creators

A perceived power imbalance is one of the most common factors that can lead to conflict. This can happen in any team but is perpetuated in globally dispersed teams who are often communicating virtually. Managers should ensure everyone is clear, not only on their own role within the team but also their colleagues’. Confusion as to who is supposed to do what can cause friction as team members compete for control.

Similarly, managers should make sure that everyone understands the overall team objectives. This keeps everyone aligned and working towards the same aims, encouraging team spirit.

A lack of personal connection can also exacerbate conflicts in virtual teams. It’s hard to get to know someone you rarely see in person and this can quickly result in international team-members not feeling like they’re part of the team at all.

The best way to counteract this is to organize more regular meet-ups. This may not always be easy but managers should aim to have a team-wide meeting – in person – at least once a year.

During virtual meetings, it’s useful to encourage small-talk about weekend plans or vacations so that team members can get to know each other on a more personal level.

And between meetings, you could utilize a group messaging service to encourage regular, informal communication.

Together, these actions can create friendships and reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

Finally, language skills within a global team are likely to vary widely and misunderstanding can create unnecessary conflict. Most global teams choose to communicate in one common language – often, English. But more confident speakers tend to dominate the conversation which can result in a divided team.

Managers should ensure they are aware of the differences in ability and act accordingly. It’s useful to encourage those more confident in the language to speak slowly and to periodically check that everyone has understood what has been said. Equally, they should encourage those less confident to contribute to avoid them isolating themselves from the conversation.

Successfully managing a global team can be challenging but the most important thing is to aim for global teams to operate like local teams. This means regularly checking in on everyone, making sure they’re happy with their role, focusing on team building and ensuring that everyone is supporting each other.

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