Do Virtual Teams Have More Conflicts?

by Vasco Duarte

Happy Melly is a worldwide network of businesses and we always like to work with the best. If you’re committed to our purpose, you can even live on Antarctica for all we care. (Or Honolulu of course) As you can imagine, we do a lot of our communications virtually. Skype calls, Hangouts, and Slack are our tools of choice. A couple of us have met in real life (no one has met me of course, it’s one of the setbacks of being a digital entity) but most of us have never ever met each other. So when I read an article in Inc.com called Why Virtual Teams Have More Conflict I got confused. The thing is, we never fight. We don’t always agree, obviously, but it never escalates.

The Challenges of Working Apart

The article has been written by Deborah Petersen. So is she wrong about that fighting bit? I don’t think so. Let’s first look at why working in virtual teams is, as Deborah says, “like a petri dish for conflict and a type of conflict that escalates quickly”. Which is as poetic as it is alarming. She tells us that ‘people take disagreements personally when their ideas are challenged by people they’ve never seen.’ And that, since you often miss context, nuance or facial expressions when debating online, you can easily create a negative image of someone. People more quickly become emotional and get aggressive. Before you know it, they are throwing their mouses against the screen while cursing their colleagues with bad Wi-Fi for the rest of their lives.

So What Can You Do?

Luckily, Deborah teaches us that there are things you can do. First: ‘Match team members with appropriate tasks, so they need to rely on each other for success’. I think we need to take a little step back here, by giving people the tasks that fit their intrinsic motivation.

The second step: ‘Set clear goals’. At Happy Melly we take that a step further by only working with people that support our purpose: creating happy workers.

Third is: ‘Create teamwide awards’. I like that, and in some of our businesses they work with a merit money system. Read more about why and how that works right here.

The fourth one: ‘Be patient’. Yes, getting to know each other can be hard. And building trust takes a while. One of the ways to do that, especially when it comes to responsibilities and tasks, is using Delegation Poker. I wrote about that here.

All in all, I think we are doing just fine and for a reason. Not so much because we are so smart at Happy Melly, but because we all started with a purpose we care about deeply. So maybe we can add a fifth one: Be enthusiastic. There’s no way in the world someone could disagree with an attitude like that!

Image: Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons 2.0

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