Virtual teams and cross functional teams


Normally teams do their work face to face. Here we are going to discuss about virtual teams also.

Virtual teams:

Virtual teams use computer technology to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve a common goal. They allow people to collaborate online using communication links like wide area networks, video conferencing, or e-mail whether they’re only a room away or continents apart.

Virtual teams can do all he things that other teams do share information, make decisions, complete tasks and achieve common goals. They can include members from the same organization or link an organization’s members with employees from other organizations (i.e. suppliers and joint partners). They can convene for a few days to solve a problem, a few months to complete a project, or exist permanently.

The three primary factors that differentiate virtual teams from face-to-face teams are:

1. The absence of direct verbal and non-verbal cues.
2. Limited social context
3. The ability to overcome time and space constraints.

In face-to-face conversation, people use para-verbal (tone of voice, inflection, voice volume) and nonverbal (eye movement, facial expression, hand gestures, and other body language) cues. These help clarify communication by providing increased meaning but aren’t available in online interaction. Virtual teams often suffer from less social rapport and less direct interaction among members. They are not able to duplicate the normal give and take of face-to-face discussion. Especially when members haven’t personally met, virtual teams tend to be more task-oriented and exchange less social-emotional information. Not surprisingly, virtual team members report less satisfaction with the group interaction process than do face-to-face teams. Finally, virtual teams able to do their work even if members are thousands of miles apart and separated by a dozen or more time zones. It allows people to work together who might otherwise never be able to collaborate.

Wipro Technologies, for instance has a Meet Your People Programs (MYPP), which provides a framework for helping managers interact with their teams on a sustained basis throughout the year. Business strategy meetings, goals, and objectives selling, appraisal discussions, career discussion meetings, new manager assimilation meetings, monthly plan meetings, skip level meetings, project meetings and social events are a part of MYPP. The company also has a ‘war room’. War rooms becomes a necessity when large teams, which are geographically dispersed, need to collaborate on a real time basis to discuss, co-ordinate and accomplish their individual but inter-related activities, which lead to the common goal. At ICICI Infotech, the knowledge management platform is an effective way of bridging people. The company also streams on cross-cultural training. Discussion boards and e-groups are two other popular ways of keeping in touch for effective working.

Cross-Functional Teams:

Let us start this with an illustration. The Boeing Company created a team made up of employees from production, planning, quality, tooling, design engineering, and information systems to automate shims on the company’s C-17 program. The team’s suggestions resulted in drastically reduced cycle time, cost, and improved quality on the C-17 program.

This Boeing example illustrates the use of cross-functional teams. These are teams made up of employees from about the same hierarchical level, but from different work areas, who come together to accomplish a task.

Many organizations have used horizontal, boundary-spanning groups for decades. For example IBM created a large task force in 1960s-made up of employees from across departments in the company to develop its highly successful System 360. And a task force is really nothing other than a temporary cross-functional team. Similarly, committees composed of members from across departmental lines are another example of cross-functional teams. But the popularity of cross-discipline work teams exploded in the late 1980s. For instance, all the major automobile manufacturers including Toyota, Honda, Nissan currently use this form of team to coordinate complex projects. And Harley-Davidson relies on specific cross-functional teams to manage each line of its motorcycles. These teams include Harley employees from design, manufacturing, and purchasing, as well as representatives from key outside suppliers.

Mahindra & Mahindra has adopted Integrated Design and Manuafcturing (IDAM), a product development process. The IDAM team consists of cross-functional covering every aspect of product development, from design and development, testing and validation, to manufacturing. M&M tied with the best in the world in their respective areas of the global auto industry Fukuji, Japan, for its press shop; Fuji Japan for dies; the Korean company Wooshin for its body shop; Fori Automation, US for the tester line for final assembly; Dura Germany for its paint shop; Lear, US, for seats and interiors; Viston, US for exteriors; Samlip, Korea for suspension; BEHR, Germany, for air conditioning; and Renault for petrol engines. The vendors set up facilities in and around the factory and M&M played the role of an integrator. M&M did not compromise on international quality and at the same time ensured that the product was fully Indian. Project Scorpio had just 120 people. These people worked in tandem, round the clock, to develop a product unsurpassed in its design and manufacturing. The IDAM teams of Scorpio were divided into 19 cross-functional design teams with people from design and development, testing and validation, marketing, manufacturing, and supplier development.

Cross-functional teams are an effective means for allowing people from diverse areas within an organization (or even between organizations) to exchange information, develop new ideas and solve problems, and coordinate complex projects. Of course, cross-functional teams are no picnic to manage. Their early stages of development are often time consuming as members learn to work with diversity and complexity. It takes time to build trust and teamwork, especially among people from different backgrounds with different experiences and perspectives.