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Ashridge Consulting - Virtual Leadership

Virtual Leadership

Photo of Ghislaine Caulat

Working virtually has become a must for most companies, particularly for organisations active on the global scene. Companies want to be active and coordinated at the global level and at the same time remain as close as possible to the local markets. In addition, the growing challenge of simultaneously managing costs, improving the lives of over-stretched managers always on the move, and securing just-in-time talent around the globe (working the best talents independently from geography for breakthrough performance) makes leading virtually a real competitive advantage.
Effective virtual teams are increasingly the life-blood of most companies:

  • They tend to get the most important projects in the company e.g. global launch of a product, international R&D projects
  • They are necessary for most strategic organisational and change activities e.g. redefining processes and systems
  • Using them is non-optional e.g. for global customers.

A lot has been written about virtual teams during recent years. However, creating high performing virtual teams remains a big challenge. Most virtual teams feel that they either fail to work well virtually or see virtual work as a poor substitute for face-to-face work.

At Ashridge Consulting we have recognised how critical it has become for companies to develop effective virtual team work and virtual leadership, and we have been researching these areas for two years. We have carried out intense action inquiry work with some of our clients, and have developed consulting and development processes in the fields of Virtual Action Learning and Virtual Leadership.

Key outcomes

Virtual working with Webex and headset

The key outcomes of our inquiry-based research include the following aspects:

  • There is evidence that virtual teams can work effectively – and that they work differently from intact teams working face-to-face. Therefore they need different kinds of attention from individuals, managers and leaders.
  • Few organisations have explicitly assessed the value of virtual working, developed a strategy for it, or have a programme to attend the technological, social and psychological needs of their employees when it comes to virtual working.
  • One key requirement for effective virtual work is the development of mutal leadership and trust. This requires careful organisational and individual ability to negotiate, contract, resource and review in relation to virtual team work. Often organisations do not consciously pay attention to these requirements.
  • Virtual teams work well when there is:

    • Clear communication (both at an informal and formal level)
    • Availability of good systems and processes
    • Reliable simple-to-use well-supported technology
    • Trust and intimacy among the team members.

  • Trust and intimacy can develop even if people have not met face-to-face.
  • Anonymity can help trust and intense relationships to develop.
  • The teleconferencing etiquette is getting in the way of the development of trustful and strong relationships: more spontaneity is needed; space must be given for virtual water cooler conversations to develop.
  • New leadership skills are required to help strong and trustful relationships develop in a virtual environment.
  • New ways of working must be created (including working with the virtual nod, developing virtual rituals, working with slowness), where the lack of visual clues is not seen as a deficit to overcome but as an opportunity to explore and develop new powerful ways to connect and work with each other.

Generally our research has led us to realise that managers and leaders have been brought up in a face-to-face direct leadership paradigm and are often unprepared to lead and work virtually. However, we have come to the conclusion that virtual team work and virtual leadership are best approached as a totally new concept and experience for the team. This involves some well established as well as distinct methods, activities and competencies. We have to learn to work effectively in virtual teams. We have to develop as virtual leaders.

Our approach

We have developed a consulting and learning process built around some carefully designed virtual learning experiences and accompanied by precisely developed relevant models and frameworks such as a specific 360 feedback tool. The main elements of our approach include virtual workshops, virtual action learning, virtual coaching and ongoing virtual support.

The development aims of our approach

  • Experience and learn to appreciate a very different working paradigm
  • Explore and understand the key challenges of virtual leadership and how to respond to them personally
  • Help leaders of virtual teams assess their current profiles and evaluate their needs to develop
  • Develop virtual leadership competences and skills and increased confidence (in self and others)
  • Perform a series of interrelated virtual tasks across the team - achieve shared and individual outcomes and learn from experience
  • Practise on real cases
  • Pay attention to and learn from each other
  • Experiment with new ways of working
  • Follow up on personal and shared learning and development.

Who will benefit from the approach?

  • Team leaders who are responsible for virtual teams (or semi-virtual teams)
  • Line managers whose subordinates are based in different countries and time zones
  • Leaders about to embark on virtual leadership activities
  • Members of intact virtual teams.

Expected outcomes from the approach

At the end of the initiative participants will have:

  • Assessed their virtual leadership profile and skills and identified their development needs
  • Revisited their assumptions on virtual teams and virtual leadership
  • Stretched their virtual leadership capacities and skills in practical situations
  • Specified their development needs and learnt how to address them
  • Experimented with new ways of leading virtual teams and refined their profile, capacities and skills
  • Created and become part of a community of practice in virtual leadership
  • Had an opportunity to lead and work virtually in a productive and generative way
  • Completed a virtual working assignment as part of a team.

What makes our approach unique?

Our approach is:

  • Totally virtual
  • Highly experiential
  • Highly practice oriented (we will work with your ongoing virtual business tasks)
  • Stretching
  • A process of development closely dovetailed with your company’s realities
  • Highly flexible: we will compose a specific menu to address your specific needs
  • based on in-depth research
  • Striving for ongoing learner-ship.

Interested in going ahead?

Please call Ghislaine Caulat at Ashridge Consulting on +44 (0)1442 841436 or email