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In Virtual Teams, Small Is Best

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In Virtual Teams, Small Is Best

A new study from Cornell researchers finds that familiarity is key to the success of teams that work with virtual platforms.

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Teamwork is a fundamental aspect of modern working life, and teams are increasingly going about their work via virtual platforms that allow team members to contribute from faraway places.

A new study from Cornell researchers finds that familiarity is key to the success of those teams, meaning that smaller teams tend to perform much better than their larger peers.

Familiarity Breeds Success

The study examined a number of teams that were connected via virtual platforms.  The teams, which consisted of academics from a number of universities spread around the globe, tended to work better when the groups allowed for frequent and intimate discussions.

“The key is having a cohesive team and a limited number of contacts in the communication network,” the authors say. “This allows team members to benefit from the strength and relationships within their team and not have their team interactions diluted by a larger base of network contacts.”

The paper suggests that this is due to the limit we have on the number of strong connections in our network, with smaller numbers understandably linked with better quality connections, and that then translating into higher quality teams.

Such closely knit groups tend to communicate more frequently, both within the group and outside of it, with this information flow underpinning strong performance both of the group itself and of the individual members in the group.  What’s more, frequent communication also seemed to reduce the level of conflict experienced by the group.

“Reported conflict in teams did not demonstrate a statistically significant negative relationship with team member performance as expected in the study, but changes in cohesion were strongly and inversely related to changes in conflict, showing that over time increased levels of cohesion were associated with decreases in conflict,” the authors say. “Research has shown that a certain amount of conflict is beneficial in teams, but how much exactly is too much conflict, I don’t precisely know.”

The Key to Strong Teams

The paper provides a number of tips that the authors believe are key to a strong performing virtual team:

  1. Be careful with outside communication. This is an interesting one, as we’re led to believe that outsiders are often key for getting good ideas. However, the authors suggest that such external communication limits the unity in the team. Perhaps, therefore, a balance needs to be struck for true effectiveness.
  2. Familiarity reduces conflict. This is much less controversial and is a natural part of working life. That we are less hostile with those we understand better is perhaps something of an obvious statement.
  3. Close bonds matter. The authors also suggest that strong bonds amongst team members also has a positive impact on our individual performances, thus underlining the importance of belonging to our wellbeing and effectiveness.

All of this information may provide you with some food for thought when crafting your own virtual teams.

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