What Makes People Succeed on Virtual Teams?

Research explores the characteristics that make various leaders, individuals, and teams perform effectively at work. However, there is limited understanding of the competencies required for people working on virtual teams. Researchers (Krumm, Kanthak, Hartmann, & Hertel, 2016) developed a competency model for virtual teamwork by examining the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) that are necessary for performing successfully on a virtual team compared to a traditional business team. The authors defined virtual teams as those using mostly digital media to do their work, with at least one team member in a different location than the others.


To provide structure to the competencies for virtual teamwork, the authors used Bartram’s Great Eight competency model. The eight competency domains include: Leading and Deciding, Supporting and Cooperating, Interacting and Presenting, Analyzing and Interpreting, Creating and Conceptualizing, Organizing and Executing, Adapting and Coping, and Enterprising and Performing.

The study collected survey data from 380 participants who completed biographical data, a Big Five Personality inventory, and rated the importance of a broad set of KSAOs for virtual or traditional business teams based on their job experiences. Based on the survey data, the authors created a dimension of virtuality based on a composite score of reliance on virtual tools, physical distance of team members, and the informational value of communication media for each participant.


The authors found that the KSAOs required for virtual teams differed from those required in traditional teams. In particular, “Leading and Deciding” (which involves the abilities to take initiative, work autonomously, and set goals) and “Analyzing and Interpreting” (which includes the abilities to analyze and communicate effectively in digital media and in writing) were more important in virtual teams than traditional teams. Furthermore, characteristics that are deemed central to teamwork, such as “Supporting and Cooperating,” were not as important in the virtual team setting as they were in the traditional team setting.

While there are two competencies that are more important in virtual teams than traditional teams, there were many KSAOs and personality domains that were not significantly different between virtual and traditional teams. For example, the competencies of “Organizing and Executing” (which involves planning and implementing work tasks) and “Creating and Conceptualizing” (which includes the ability to be strategic and innovative) as well as broad personality requirements (as measured by the Big Five Inventory) were not significantly different in ratings of importance. This suggests that individuals successful in traditional teams may also be successful in virtual teams.


In conclusion, with virtual work becoming an increasingly common practice across a variety of occupations, practitioners need a broad competency model to structure the recruiting, selection, training, and management of virtual team members. This study provides insight into competencies that enable virtual teams to be more effective, which may have practical implications for hiring and managing individuals working in a virtual environment.


(1) Virtual teamwork does require a different set of KSAOs from those needed in traditional teamwork.

(2) The two competencies of “Leading and Deciding” and “Analyzing and Interpreting” were more important in virtual teams than traditional teams.

(3) Many of the other competencies and broad personality traits predict success on both types of teams.


Krumm, S., Kanthak, J., Hartmann, K., & Hertel, G. (2016). What does it take to be a virtual team player? The knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics required in virtual teams. Human Performance29(2), 123-142.