Skip main navigation

Challenges in GVTs

Investigate the added layers of complexity when teams are dispersed across the globe in Global Virtual Teams (GVTs).
Social media concept showing connected thought and speech bubbles featuring different technologies
© Deakin University

Global virtual teams, or GVTs, are teams that are both culturally diverse and globally dispersed.

In other words, GVTs are multicultural teams whose members are in different locations around the world and who connect through electronic communications technologies (such as email and videoconferencing), rather than face-to-face.

With recent travel restrictions due to COVID-19, GVTs have become a reality for many of us working with colleagues in other countries. Even when working with colleagues from the same office, many of us are now required to work virtually. Often we are no longer able to have all team members physically in the same room.

This comes with a range of challenges, such as social distance, miscommunication, and even just technical troubles. It’s no surprise the likelihood of conflict is higher in remote and GVT rather than in a regular multicultural team. Let’s now explore more about the challenges working in GVTs.

Power imbalances and relationships in GVTs

A key source of social distance in Global Virtual Teams (GVTs) comes from structures that can create perceptions of power imbalance and an ‘us against them’ mentality. The team’s structure, or its distribution across sites, can influence cohesion. Consider the following questions.

Is there a main location?

When a team has more members in one location than in others, it can feel like that location’s team members hold the most power in the team. Team members who are isolated or working by themselves can feel excluded, or like part of the outgroup.

Where is the leader located?

The leader’s location is key to the perceived power dynamics in a GVT. Team members in the same location as the leader are often privileged with greater access to the leader.

By the same token, it can become easy to neglect the needs and contributions of team members at other sites.

Structure can also reinforce faultlines in GVTs. When geographic, language, power and cultural boundaries all align to split the team, this worsens the negative effects of cultural faultlines on group functioning.

How do you build relationships in a GVT?

In a multicultural team that is co-located, colleagues have more opportunities to get to know each another, to develop empathy for different ways of working, and to identify and address issues as they come up.

But in a GVT, there can be fewer opportunities for interaction, resulting in:

  • differences in communication and working styles, which may cause friction
  • members identifying less with the team as a whole.

Without a shared team identity, team cohesion suffers and some team members may put in less effort for the team.

Language, technology and time zones

Communication challenges can be heightened in GVTs due to greater disparities in language proficiency, and the reliance on technology to communicate.


Many GVTs adopt a common language (ie lingua franca) – typically, the English language. But this practical decision can have unfortunate side effects.

For example, some team members may be hesitant to speak up if they’re not confident with their language skills. In these cases, the team misses out on vital expertise and diversity of opinions.

It’s also common for subgroups to switch to their native language and have side conversations. This can create frustration for team members who don’t speak that language, or feelings of exclusion or suspicion.

Technology and time zones

In GVTs there’s often a delay between messages being sent and received, which can make communication even more challenging. On top of that, teammates are in different time zones and may run into issues with technology.

These factors all make it harder to feel the social presence of teammates. GVTs will often rely on the written word such as email to communicate, but this has its advantages and disadvantages:

  • If we are not conversationally fluent in the lingua franca, written messages can give us time to understand or translate the message.
  • On the other hand, written communication removes much of the contextual information that high context communicators rely on for meaning.

Your task

Do the challenges identified in this step reflect your experience of working in GVTs? Share your experiences with other learners in the comments.

If you haven’t worked in a GVT, read through the comments and “like” or comment on those that you find particularly insightful.

© Deakin University
This article is from the free online

Leading Culturally Diverse Teams in the Workplace

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now