Abstract people connection technology concept with dotted world globe.
Professor Tsedal Neeley's SPLIT framework can be used to manage social distance in GVTs.

SPLIT framework for leading GVTs

The SPLIT framework helps leaders to identify and address the sources of social distance in GVTs.

In Week 2, we discussed how the complexity of global virtual teams (GVTs) bring additional challenges, in terms of:

  • perceived power imbalances
  • relationship building
  • language and technology.

These combine to create social distance, or lack of emotional connection among team members, which can harm team performance.

So we now turn to the SPLIT framework, created by Professor Tsedal Neeley. The framework guides leaders in addressing the five sources of social distance in GVTs:

  • Structure
  • Process
  • Language
  • Identity
  • Technology.

We introduce the first two elements in this step.

Structure and the perception of power

The way GVTs are structured can cause perceptions of power imbalance, or foster an ‘us and them’ mentality (see Step 2.12). To counter this, leaders of GVTs need to get three messages across:

  1. “The team is united”. As a leader, it’s important to emphasise the team identity, not the subgroups within the team. Leaders should seek to promote the idea of the team as a single entity while still encouraging sensitivity to cultural differences. Be aware of how the leader talks about team members in different locations – does the language divide or unite? (eg ’the Europe team’ versus ‘our designers in Brussels’)
  2. “We share a common purpose”. Leaders need to make every team member aware they are working toward a common goal as a team. Regularly remind the team how everyone’s work fits into the team or organisational goal.
  3. “I am there for you”. Make sure team members in other locations know the leader acknowledges their contributions, supports their work, and involves them in important decisions.

Process and the importance of empathy

GVTs lack informal face-to-face interactions so their leaders need to make an effort to build ‘deliberate moments’ into virtual interactions among team members to foster a sense of mutual understanding and empathy.

Let’s explore some examples of ‘deliberate moments’.

Feedback on routine interactions

For example, what happens when a team member in one location habitually replies to emails in the afternoon, causing an overnight delay and frustration for team members at another location? Do team members try to ignore this problem? Or do they give feedback to each other about how they are working together?

Establishing a pattern of team members checking in regularly with each other can prevent issues from festering and creating tensions over the longer term.

Unstructured time

How do you start team meetings? Do you get straight down to business? Or do you allow some time for general chit-chat, giving a chance for teammates to feel closer to one another?

When teammates don’t have a chance for informal face-to-face interactions, it’s important to try to make up for this by building in time for unstructured communication to promote trust.

Your task

Reflect on one of the two elements of the SPLIT framework we have discussed in this step.

Is this something your team does well, or needs to work on? Share how your team does well in this area, or what strategies you think might help you to improve?

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This article is from the free online course:

Harnessing Cultural Diversity: Effective Team Leadership in the Workplace

Deakin University

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