It is 8am GMT. You are the Manager of a cross-functional team in a global organisation. At this time, two team members based in India are just coming back from their lunch break. The other three team members are still sleeping in the United States. You know you will be heading out for your lunch by the time they wake up. In a world where globalisation is well established and technology has built bridges between teams, regardless of geographical location, virtual teams play a major role in supporting organisations and projects achieving their objectives. This does not mean that these teams are always operating effectively. Investing the time and effort to develop teams helps organisations reap the benefits across employees morale, effective performance and successful completions of projects (CMI, 2011).
Michele Compton stated in her book Personal Accountability of a Team (2007) that within a team is defined a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. But with global organisations a team can exist across time, space, and cultural boundaries using technology to communicate and collaborate effectively. This is how Kuruppuarachchi defines virtual teams in his paper Virtual Teams Concepts: A Case Study in 2009. Whether you are part of a team working in a project environment, or part of a cross-functional team in a well established organisation, chances are you will experience the same stages of team development with all its successes and conflicts.
Investing the time and effort to develop teams helps organisations reap the benefits across employees morale, effective performance and successful completions of projects. (CMI, 2011)
The aim of this blog is to discuss the various dimensions of a cross-functional team that operates virtually across three time zones.
Case Study: Team’s Structure and Environment
A company provides employee wellbeing support services across the globe and has offices in 10 different countries (Unites states, United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, France, Belgium, Singapore, India, Indonesia and China). The services are categorised under emotional, practical and physical wellbeing and each service has its own certified experts to provide the service. The Quality Team consists of seven members in the US, UK, Portugal and India. They each bring a different skillset that is in line with the three categories of the services offered to customers.
The main duties of the team include reviewing the service performance of the various operation teams, conduct different audits, investigate complaints and provide helpdesk support to phone specialists. The team collectively investigate complaints and provide helpdesk support, but when it comes to the specialist’s service performance, they are divided so each supports the service they are experts in. One team member is solely in charge of providing data and numbers from 3 different platforms that are used. The team uses various types of technology to communicate and collaborate. Emails, Ticketing Platform, Project Management Tool, and Quality Assurance tool are a few to be named. The author is the line manager of this team and the Vice President provides the strategic support to ensure the team is aligned with the company goals.
When the company wins a new contract, the launch of each contract is treated as a short term project. The Quality team ensures any required service level agreements (SLAs), that should make it to the quality assurance policy, are taken into consideration. Since the team is available over three different time zones (EST, GMT, IST), there is an element of self-direction in the work that is carried out. Due to the nature of the business, there is also an element of hand-off on certain tasks and duties that takes place between time zones. This occurs particularly when there is an urgent matter that requires to be addressed within a strict SLA.
The team meets on a weekly basis virtually to review strategic items and address risks and business items. The line manager meets with each quality manager individually on a weekly basis to address needs for their own speciality product and with the vice president on a weekly basis to ensure strategic alignment is maintained. The team has a flat organisational structure and there is no seniority amongst colleagues.
Figure 1.0 Team Organisational Structure
This case study will be used in this report to discuss team structure, motivation, and conflict. Based on a literature review, the author will provide some recommendations to drive performance to a higher level.
Project Team Structure
A Team is a group of members assembled to perform activities that contribute towards achieving a common goal (Boddy, 2001).
This definition on its own does not provide sufficient insight to analyse how a team performs. It is important to understand the dynamics and the set up of the actual team. Teams can be set up as functional, cross functional and semi-autonomous. The functional team identifies the group based on their shared function, where as a semi-autonomous team operates in a structure of their own as a small company. If we look into a cross -functional team, we will find that individuals are brought from different functions to operate towards a shared goal. Collaboration is key to their success. Table 1.0 illustrates the key features that differentiate those three different team set-ups as presented by Boddy 2001, Managing the Project Team.
Table 1.0 Key Features of different Team Set up
|Functional Team||Cross Functional Team||Semi-Autonomous Team|
|Single unit in an Organisation||Team is selected from different functions||The team set up resembles that of a small company|
|Other Units may have limited involvement||Team can be relocated to enhance communication||The team manages the work from inception to profitability|
|Team structure becomes operational with minimal changes||Team structures could change: Product division and Geographical or Product Division and Functional||Team structure begins from creating the team to dissolving it after work is completed|
While the above three features start to give more insights on how teams operate, it is still not fully inclusive of various set ups. A study by Bright Horizons in 2017 defined virtual teams as groups of two or more geographically dispersed people who are coordinated primarily through the support of technologies to accomplish a common and valued goal (Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1998). Geographical distribution becomes a major player of how teams operate. Moreover, a study by Bernice Hesselink (2016) define another set-ups of teams called the self directed teams. These teams benefit companies because they do not have a manager anymore. They show more competence, improved employee satisfaction, demonstrate more innovation and are higher in performance in comparison to traditional teams directed by a manager (Hopegl & Gemuenden, 2001, Kauffeld, 2006, Rousseau & Aube, 2010).
If we look at the case study and review the organisational chart provide, an assumption could be made that since the team is within the same function, they operate under the functional team as defined in table 1.0. However, due to the nature of services each Quality Manager brings to the team from various services and products, the cross-functional team characteristics become more fitting. Figure 2.0 illustrates how.
Figure 2.0 Team Organisational Structure – cross functional characteristics
Figure 2.0 shows that the quality team is actually set up from expertise from various departments in the business. While they now form the traditional set up of a team operating in one function, they are actually servicing as a cross-functional team bringing all their expertise to collaborate over one goal in the company: improving quality of the service.
The five managers are not colocated in one office. They are spread out in 4 countries, three time zones: US, UK, Portugal and India. This adds another layer to the team structure: virtual collaboration. Figure 3.0 shows the locations that the team members are based in.
Figure 3.0 Team Organisational Structure – cross-functional & Virtual
So what are the characteristics of a virtual team? Virtual teams are made up of people in different physical locations; armed with laptops, Wi-Fi, and mobile phones, most professionals can do their jobs from anywhere (Ferazzi, 2014). The important element in virtual teams is the use of technology. Whether it be phones, emails, collaboration platforms, ticketing systems, etc. if technology was not used at all, each team member will become an independent entity of their own and the team disintegrates. Understanding the basics of how teams are set up is the starting point to driving individual and team performance.
This is the first in a series of blogs I intend to publish on Project Teams, focusing on team management in a project environment. Topics will cover team motivation, culture, composition, and communication. All of the topics are covered in the case study I submitted, part of my Masters Degree paper on Project Teams at the University of West London.
Boddy, D., 2001. Managing projects: building and leading the team. Harlow
CMI, Chartered Management Institute, 2011. Steps in Successful Team Building Checklist 088
Ferazzi, K., (2014). Getting Virtual Teams Right. Leading Teams Right. Harvard Business Review
Hoegl, M., & Gemuenden, H.G. (2001). Teamwork Quality and the Success of Innovative Projects: A Theoratical Concept and Empirical Evidence. Organisation Science, 12(4), 435-449. doi: 1047-7039/01/1204/0435/505.00 1526-5455
Townsend, A. M., DeMarie, S. M., & Hendrickson, A. R. (1998). Virtual teams: Technology and the workplace of the future. The Academy of Management Executive, 12(3), 17—29
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