How to Successfully Lead an International Virtual Team

Christian Burgos
November 21, 2022

How to Successfully Lead an International Virtual Team

Nowadays, a significant number of companies are made up of teams from different parts of the world. International virtual teams bring cultural, talent, and service diversity. As a result, leaders in charge of virtual teams are responsible for the management and maintenance of efficiency in the workplace. In this article, we’ll uncover the secrets to successfully lead and boost virtual team building.  

Why Should Leadership Be Approached Differently for Virtual Teams?

Are you worried about managing your own virtual team for the first time? Maybe you are currently managing one, yet you think there’s a lot of room for improvement regarding your leadership approach. If so, you probably notice by now that the standard leadership approach in an office setting won’t completely translate to the virtual setting. 

Implementing an adequate leadership style is crucial to ensure a virtual team doesn’t derail from the path of success. In fact, previous research suggests the interaction and performance of virtual teams may be influenced by leadership styles. [1][2][3]

Moreover, leadership is often approached differently for virtual teams. Communication is particularly difficult in a virtual team due to the lack of physical presence. A leader needs to make sure there’s constant communication with their employees so their needs are understood, thus, creating a safe and productive environment. 

Knowing this, do you think your style of leadership matches the virtual work setting?

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Do You Identify as A Transformational Leader?

Transformational leadership has gained attention recently due to its potential in managing teams in a fast-paced changing work environment. Transformational leaders are good at motivating their employees to work hard and act in ways that represent a substantive change for a business. [4]

Transformational leaders are also effective at dealing with adaptability, to the extent of gaining control on how external stimuli affect its DNA (epigenetics). This is a key skill that even the greatest leaders aren’t aware of. However, intentional epigenetic control results in neurobiology changes associated with leadership behaviors. [5 

Additionally, these leaders also play a big role in the epigenetics of their employees. They set the level of environmental stress in the workplace, thus, affecting and molding the DNA of their teammates. [6]   

But, is transformational leadership the answer to the limitations generated by international virtual teams? Theoretically, yes! Transformational leaders can overcome any kind of challenge by quickly adapting to the resources available. 

Yet, this is easier said than done. Physical distance in the work setting is one of the most common drivers of unproductivity and mediocrity. When leaders aren’t able to fulfill this gap, employees tend to find themselves struggling to collaborate effectively with their teammates, thus, affecting the overall productivity of the team. 

So, how can a leader strengthen the relationship between virtual teammates?

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Why Should Team Building Be a Key Tool for Transformational Leaders?

Team building is the process of genuinely bringing together coworkers in a way that boosts output and morale. Leaders often influence a team’s behavior and epigenetics by identifying the team's advantages and disadvantages and organizing events that improve team dynamics. [5] Is within the job duties of a leader to complete corporate objectives by being aware of the team's personalities, abilities, and interactions. [7]

When a leader notices skills deficiency in their teams, they use team-building activities to strengthen those weaknesses. Tasks for a team-building leader include: [8]

1. Create teams
2. Set objectives and standards
3. Assign responsibilities and roles
4. Create and oversee team building exercises
5. Dispute resolution
6. Promote connections and trust
7. Keep an eye on, nurture, and raise morale
8. Enhance communication
9. Analyze growth and improvement
10. Remain focused
11. Establish and preserve a sense of collective identity

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6 Skills Every Virtual Leader Should Practice 

A leader guiding a virtual team should pay close attention to the limitations that come with virtual team management. The key competencies that have been emphasized in the literature as being essential for leaders in the age of digital transformation are: [9]

1. Start communicating through digital media
2. Increase your decision-making speed
3. Learn how to manage disruptive change
4. Manage connectivity
5. Implement team-shared mental models
6. Improve your technical skills daily

Let’s dive in!

1. Start Communicating Through Digital Media

According to scholars, the adoption of decentralized organizational structures has been fostered due to the demand for speed, flexibility, and quicker access to information. As a result, the real-time participation of employees in many decision-making processes is made possible by digital transformation. [10]

Leaders are therefore required to embrace a more inclusive style of leadership, soliciting and considering followers' opinions while making daily decisions and engaging in two-way communication. [11] A leader needs to set the appropriate tone for communication, while organizing it and providing clear messages. Moreover, a leader needs to master different communication tools, as their communication effectiveness depends largely on the ability to choose the right communication tool. [9]

2. Increase Your Decision-Making Speed

Researchers concur that e-business leaders must make judgments faster when compared to traditional business models. [10][12] Fortunately, the use of information technology enables leaders to make more informed judgments. [10]

Nowadays, a large amount of real-time data can be provided via information systems. Because of this, it has become and will continue to be increasingly important to process large amounts of rapidly changing incoming and outgoing data (such as Big data) to evaluate, prioritize, and understand what’s pertinent for making strategic decisions. [9]

3. Learn how To Manage Disruptive Change

The ongoing necessity for businesses to adapt, anticipate opportunities, and occasionally improvise is highlighted by researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in the US. [12] Leaders must actively participate in detecting the need for change, handling it, and launching it within their teams and organizations to meet the increasing demand for innovation. [7]

Findings from Imperial College Management School in London support the idea that e-leaders exhibit traits of risk-taking and entrepreneurship more so than leaders in conventional settings. [10] However, ongoing transformation shouldn't divert attention from the organization's goals and objectives. A leader must define a shared direction while encouraging an adaptable and creative mindset within the team.

4. Manage Connectivity

E-leaders also need to develop their networking skills. With the widespread use of social media and other digital platforms, the hyper-connected environment in which leaders operate offers new networking opportunities. 

According to L’Oréal Paris group product manager Penny Horner-Long and business researcher Dr. Richard Schoenberg: [10

"In the new economy, some leaders don't do anything but network because there is no need for it commercially. It is merely networking for the sake of networking.” 

5. Implement Team-Shared Mental Models 

A team-shared mental model is a shared understanding of a situation or problem. It is often represented in the form of a diagram that illustrates the key factors and their relationships. Leaders can use these diagrams to improve their understanding of the situation, develop an understanding with other team members, and to communicate with others about the issue. [13]

6. Improve your technical skills Daily 

Finally, academics stress the rising importance of technical skills. Leaders must comprehend how to employ diverse technologies and control their use. Having IT knowledge and abilities are essential for working in a digital environment. [10]

The mastery of existing technologies must also be balanced with the capacity to keep up with the most recent technological advancements. [14] This underlines the necessity to build one's digital abilities using a lifelong learning strategy.


A great leader is an individual that uses knowledge of the team's personalities, skills, and relationships to make informed decisions that further corporate objectives. One of the most important elements of team leadership is the ability to assess a team and identify potential growth areas. 

Team-building exercises may be used by a management to close skills gaps or opportunities for greater connections. Team leaders should take proactive measures to enhance team performance in order to transform average teams into remarkable ones.

Further, team-oriented leaders encourage collaboration among their followers, but followers of lone-wolf leaders are more likely to follow similar individualistic philosophies. A leader instills respect and collaboration in teams by putting team harmony and success first.

Do you want to go a step further and learn how to use neuroscience, epigenetics, and spiritualism to become the leader people always look up to? Sign up to our Wolf Leadership Program and learn the secrets to manage your business into the best company within its industry! 

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[2] Sosik, J. J., Kahai, S. S., & Avolio, B. J. (1998). Transformational leadership and dimensions of creativity: Motivating idea generation in computer-mediated groups. Creativity research journal, 11(2), 111-121.

[3] Kahai, S. S., & Avolio, B. J. (2006). Leadership style, anonymity, and the discussion of an ethical issue in an electronic context. International Journal of E-Collaboration (IJeC), 2(2), 1-26.

[4] Bass, B. M. (1999). Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European journal of work and organizational psychology, 8(1), 9-32.

[5] Spain, S. M., Harms, P., & Jackson, J. (2013). Toward a sociogenomic model of leadership: A theoretical overview. Available at SSRN 2315176.

[6] Legato, M. J. (2017). The Intelligent Genome: How Epigenetics Mediates Adaptation. Gender and the Genome, 1(3), 95-96.

[7] Salas, E., Rozell, D., Mullen, B., & Driskell, J. E. (1999). The effect of team building on performance: An integration. Small group research, 30(3), 309-329.

[8] Beauchamp, M. R., McEwan, D., & Waldhauser, K. J. (2017). Team building: Conceptual, methodological, and applied considerations. Current opinion in psychology, 16, 114-117.

[9] Cortellazzo, L., Bruni, E., & Zampieri, R. (2019). The role of leadership in a digitalized world: A review. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1938.

[10] Horner-Long, P., & Schoenberg, R. (2002). Does e-business require different leadership characteristics?: An empirical investigation. European Management Journal, 20(6), 611-619.

[11] Schwarzmüller, T., Brosi, P., Duman, D., & Welpe, I. M. (2018). How does the digital transformation affect organizations? Key themes of change in work design and leadership. Management Revue, 29(2), 114-138.

[12] Pulley, M. L., & Sessa, V. I. (2001). E‐leadership: tackling complex challenges. Industrial and commercial Training.

[13] Langan-Fox, J., Code, S., & Langfield-Smith, K. (2000). Team mental models: Techniques, methods, and analytic approaches. Human factors, 42(2), 242-271.

[14] Roman, A. V., Van Wart, M., Wang, X., Liu, C., Kim, S., & McCarthy, A. (2019). Defining e‐leadership as competence in ICT‐mediated communications: an exploratory assessment. Public Administration Review, 79(6), 853-866.