“Distribution of power in groups is nothing new. Hierarchical structures have been with us since the dawn of time. In time, things have turned more elaborate, and when technology and globalization enriched connections and simplified remote communication, the world of work naturally became smaller. Organizations have adopted a whole new level of interwoven competencies and responsibilities. If our ancestors had to collaborate and compete in small-scale areas, on essential life tasks, and with a handful of people, for virtual teams, hierarchy and collaboration is a global, complex phenomenon”.
Virtual team hierarchy can be a friend or a foe to project goals. Suitable team composition can cut costs, facilitate decision-making, and bring a whole new perspective of the virtual team success. But if you waste resources on managing hierarchical enigmas because you haven’t decided on the right team structure, a poorly chosen team can pose a number of problems.
Virtual Team Hierarchy vs. Conventional Organizations
The importance of virtual teams should not be taken lightly. Although their hierarchical and leadership concepts vary from the traditional organizational power distribution structures, virtual teams face their own set of challenges. Research indicates that virtual teams thrive under shared leadership, but that the relationship between shared leadership and the overall team performance is not so linear.
Virtual teams still need strong support structures to perform well. On the other hand, shared leadership is important for team performance even when team members work in proximity.
Shared leadership improves autonomy and trust between team members, increasing team satisfaction, which, in turn, positively affects team performance. Obviously, power distribution benefits teamwork in many ways. Then, why are leaders so reluctant to implement it on a wider scale?
When the virtual team hierarchy drops the traditional organizational concept and focuses on shared leadership, managers’ attention turns from task-based and goal-based decisions to relationship management.
Most leaders, regardless of the role they play in a team, will agree that managing people is a tough challenge. The virtual team’s success banks on how well team members know each other’s intricate interdependencies, understand role boundaries and receive clear communication about the deliverables. In such a constellation, leaders are often put into the uncomfortable position of choosing between team empowerment and micromanagement.
Digital projects add a new level of complexity. When you need to work agile, keep up with personalization-hungry customers, and respond to market changes in a jiffy, any unnecessary spent effort chips away at the long-term project success.
There are many ways to remain flexible and adaptive with virtual team hierarchy. Flash teams and flash organizations enable quick assembling of on-demand virtual experts that suffice an existing level of interconnectedness, interdependence, and shared leadership while leaving space for adding or removing tasks and roles as a project grows or completes its goal and comes to an end.
How Flash Teams Solve Virtual Team Hierarchy
Flash teams are project-based, with little or less than the traditional habitual team interaction. The workflow is solved with computational algorithms. As Stanford research team so neatly explains it, ”flash teams consist of sequences of linked modular tasks and handoffs that can be computationally managed”.
Without delving too deep into the technology, it’s important to understand how flash teams innovate current virtual team hierarchies and provide users with the capacity to quickly find a solution for the changing requests.
Small Atomic Blocks of Action
Project tasks are performed in small atomic actions called blocks. Blocks consist of crowdsourced experts working on a task that requires input, a system of interaction rules, and an output. Blocks are self-contained and can be reused in a different context, as well as connected or disconnected to other blocks to scale projects up or down, according to the project needs.
Diffusion of Responsibility
The problem of inconsistent benefits of the leadership distributed across the team is solved by diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is assigning a directly responsible individual (DRI) for each block. The DRI acts like a temporary manager. Their role is not long-term or tied to a strict organizational hierarchy but rather short-lived, as long as it is necessary for the successful block completion.
By identifying block growth parameters, the product owners, the project manager, or the directly responsible individual can easily add new experts to a block and specify its growth volume.
The rules of the computational task hierarchy can delay the execution of a project. In flash teams, it’s not necessary to wait for a task to be completed. Task results can be visible in real-time since virtual team tasks are pipelined for simultaneous execution.
Hiring people the conventional way typically requires a long and cumbersome process to find the right talent. Flash-teams enable on-demand expertise.
Think of hiring teams as a service. Flash teams are virtual teams as-a-service – take as much expert work as you need, for just what you need it, and at the right moment.
A flash team would be great for you if you need to promptly jump from project to project. Instead of maintaining long-term work interactions, you can benefit from a fragmented view of digital projects and allocate resources to a clearly defined, specific task, for example, creating a brand video campaign, transferring a website to a new CMS, or just adding a new feature to a mobile app.
Flash Organizations for High-Interaction Projects and Complex Goals
Due to their elasticity and atomic nature, it’s easy to confuse flash teams as only being able to perform granular tasks. However, flash teams can be combined to create flash organizations, which are project-based virtual teams equipped to execute complex, open-ended tasks with high interaction between members.
Work Adaptation and Division of Labor
Flash organizations have better-defined member roles and a virtual team hierarchy based on organizational structures with plenty of interdependent work between team members.
In contrast to existing crowdsourcing models concentrated on task-related, simple goals, the collaboration structure is based on work adaptation and division of labor. Roles are de-individualized or disassociated from the person and attributed to their role within the task context. Consequently, when a person leaves a project, the empty role can be filled immediately without considerably damaging the project resources.
Flash organizations have a specific take on asset specificity. Asset specificity is the value accrued by people working together over a longer period of time. Rather than using person-based hierarchy, flash organizations borrow the role structure concept from emergency teams, such as disaster response teams or movie crews.
When the virtual team hierarchy is tied to the role, each role than gets a task and the organizational structure is updated in real-time. It takes an average of 15 minutes to hire a person from a crowdsourcing platform that will fit in the specified role.
Therefore, setting up teams that would otherwise take weeks gets done within a couple of days.
A flash organization is a great choice if you are a product owner working on complex goals, such as growing a startup or a mobile app, or if you are interested in a cost-effective way to test compatibility for compiling a virtual power team.
Virtual Power Teams
Virtual power teams are most likely to resonate with classical hierarchies. They are built on constancy and maintain the highest level of interaction between team members.
A virtual power team is a type of flash team that would be gainful if you are an established business which could use most advantage from the tried and tested approach of multiple atomic blocks of action. Less consistent roles, tasks, and hierarchies are integrated into a power flash structure. Such structure keeps all the advantages of flash teams and flash organizations, but ads an additional layer of constancy.
Regardless of which type of virtual team you think is initially best for you, remember that you can retain a flexible approach and test what works best for the current project you are working on.