Working with Virtual Strangers:

Working with Virtual Strangers:

The Dynamics of Leading and Working in Agile Teams


25 February 2019

Key people

The Dynamics of Leading and Working in Agile Teams

Remote Seminar participants are welcome and encouraged!

As the growth of agile working continues, the need to find different ways to communicate, increases. Improvements in technology have meant that working virtually is now considered a norm in working life.

Organisationally, the strength of virtual groups is that they are able to help release the tension between the pull to co-locate and the push to decentralize teams – by providing a new way to communicate from multiple locations. This is particularly true for those who are working internationally. What constitutes an actual group varies and this is also true for virtual groups. Our definition of a virtual group is; a team “working together interdependently with mutual accountability for a common goal”, some of whose members “do not work in either the same place and/or at the same time” (Schweitzer and Duxbury, 2010: 274).

One of the key elements for all teams working together is the need to establish trust – or at least a basis from which to work together. In their seminal study Jarvenpaa, Knoll and Leidner (1998) explored why establishing trust is more difficult for virtual teams than for face-to-face teams. In virtual groups, there is a reduction in data from social cues (which help with the formation of trust). Trust is instead formed on the expectation, or belief in the other members of the group to perform, by delivering the tasks required.  This is called “swift trust”.

One participant in Jarvenpaa, Knoll and Liedner’s research made the following statement about working in virtual groups;

Being able to see people and see what they do is a huge part of what we do, so would I be able to trust them? I think it would take a little longer to trust them than if they’re sitting in the room. Just ‘cause you can’t read them…in an office environment…it’s easier to read someone if you’re talking and you can see that… they’re reading their phone, they’re elsewhere…

As the quote demonstrates, there is an unconscious response to what we do not know or understand about others. Conversely, trust can also be established through the use of other mediating but slower forms of communication, eg the use of polite or political emails to mediate a relationship. The irritation or anger felt by the author can be disguised, so the message is received as having a neutral tone.   In face to face communication, it is more likely that we are able to read the cues to decipher the truth, or something closer to it.

The projective space in virtual communication expands, as it is experienced not just by the individual but incorporates the whole group identity. Silence can provoke a more paranoid response by creating a void in contact. This expansion, is related to what is not seen through virtual communication – the question is, are the other group members really listening to this conversation, or are they distracted by other things? Bion’s description of whether the group is “working” or has moved into a “basic assumption” response, still applies to the unconscious functioning of virtual groups – although the basis of the “basic assumption” response shifts.

We are offering a Practical Seminar on 22 March in which we will explore what type of environment is necessary to support the effective development of a virtual group. We will consider the nature of trust and projection in the virtual space and help participants come away with a deeper understanding and the ability to identify how group dynamics and basic assumption responses may hinder the performance of the group.

Applications are now being invited for this seminar on Friday, 22 March 2019. This ‘shamelessly practical’ seminar is part of a series of 1-day seminars on Organisational Change which delve into the dilemmas, difficulties and joys that arise on a regular basis in organisational life.

The seminars are for anyone interested in working in virtual spaces; leaders; managers; Human Resource professionals; coaches; leadership, team and organisational development practitioners; psychologists and other social scientists – anyone working with change in 1:1, group, organisational and system contexts. Remote Seminar participants are welcome and encouraged!

They are designed so that you can attend just one or two or the whole series.  Each seminar is held on a single day in central London and is non-residential.

You can apply here

1 seminar = £300 + VAT

2 seminars booked at the same time = £260 + VAT each.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Anabel Navarro: a.navarro@tavinstitute.org

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