Imperatives for Successful Collaboration in Virtual Teams


Anil Wadhwa

Baker Hughes, a GE company

Houston, Texas, USA



Collaboration is not only about working together—where everyone focuses on their individual roles—it also takes advantage of collective wisdom and accepts risks to foster creativity and achieve better-than-expected results. In other words, while working together is important for linear or incremental progress, collaboration is necessary to produce exponential or break-through outcomes.

Any professional collaboration within physical or virtual teams entails several phases of engagement after the initial work assignment is completed. While the team and group development model of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning, first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1963, is still relevant, it is premised on teamwork in a physically cohabitated setting and employs traditional management principles. Despite advances in tele-communications and information technology, achieving collaboration in virtual team environments remains challenging because of factors such as the degree of virtuality, the virtual workplace, different time zones, interpersonal skills, cultural differences, and the emotional intelligence of the team leader. This leader is expected to manage the triple constraints of the project while allaying the fear and concerns of team members whom he might not have met or worked with previously. It is a daunting task to get the best out of virtual team members because it requires the effective use of various relationship-management techniques. Consequently, while the most important factor for achieving collaboration in a virtual team is effective communication, it is imperative to promote coordination, coopetition, and concurrence to maximize the team’s potential.

This paper examines several projects completed during 2013-2016 in which virtual team members were engaged. It discusses the challenges and outcomes of those projects and provides a detailed analysis using a competency-based model to help companies consistently achieve superior results.

1   Introduction

Collaboration, in simple and practical terms, can be defined as the action of working with someone to achieve a defined and common business purpose. The use of this noun has gained huge popularity since the early twentieth century when the Wright brothers collaborated to invent the first airplane and flew it successfully over a beach in North Carolina. Until then, all major inventions of the Industrial Age were largely credited to the individuals, e.g., Alfred Nobel, Louis Pasteur, Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison, to name a few. The central idea behind collaboration is co-laboring, which is also one of the reasons why organizations exist, i.e., to tap into the collective skillset, knowledge, and experience of a group of people to solve problems, innovate, and create intellectual property that would otherwise be difficult to achieve individually.

Global competition and the internet of things have compelled companies to innovate and transform their businesses at a pace not seen in the twentieth century. The need to innovate applies not only to traditional industries in technology, manufacturing and supply chain domains, but also to knowledge-based industries1 that rely on intellectual capabilities. Such needs require a diverse workforce that may or may not be co-located to foster new ideas, processes, and management techniques. The power of successful collaboration within virtual teams, across companies and geographies, is exemplified by two Fortune 500 companies – Apple and Boeing. The first, with the highest market capitalization in the world, relies on 100+ suppliers located in six continents, yet delivering a stunning 73 inventory turns in a year, i.e., one every five days. The latter uses more than two million parts manufactured in a dozen of countries to assemble a 787 Dreamliner, performing with unparalleled fuel efficiency and range flexibility.

Collaboration takes place in two primary forms, active or synchronous, and passive or asynchronous. In active collaboration, driven physically or remotely, the individuals interact directly and in real time, where responses and feedback are provided instantly. In the passive form, interaction is time-lagged, i.e., the information is shared electronically, and individuals read and respond at their convenience. The success of either form of collaboration is, however, not guaranteed and depends on the organizational culture, employee engagement, accountability matrix, social presence, training, and coopetition. In the following sections, some of the key imperatives for successful collaboration are examined, which applies to both forms, albeit in varying degrees.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 11th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in August 2017.  It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

About the Author

Anil Wadhwa

Houston, Texas, USA

Anil Wadhwa, MBA, PMP
is a Vice President and Head of Remote Operations and Managed Services at Baker Hughes, a GE company. He has extensive domestic and international experience in upstream oil and gas industry spanning digital oilfield technologies, drill bits, well engineering, land rig operations, managed services and project management. Anil has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Jabalpur University and an MBA in Project Management from the University of Texas. He has managed many successful projects in operations, technology and product development. Anil is based in Houston, Texas.

Contact email: [email protected]