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Fault lines and conflict in virtual teams: a research brief for academic leaders

Managing a virtual team brings new challenges, and many academic leaders unavoidably find themselves ‘learning on the job’ for this new role. Even the most experienced senior academics are going to face new risks if conflict develops in a team whose interactions are principally online.

This week’s management brief from the Oxford Review draws on a February 2020 paper from a group of Spanish researchers. It includes a list of suggestions to consider when setting up a virtual team, some of the issues that can impact team resilience and the necessary elements for interventions to address team conflicts when they arise.

Once again diversity is identified as a key factor for team success, as long as leaders can avoid ‘fault lines’ opening within teams as these often lead to, or amplify, difficulties. These lines can emerge based on gender, age, nationality and a host of other individual and cultural factors. Academic discipline is a common fault line in universities. Any type of subgroup within a larger group increases the risk of conflict and effective leaders will be watching for these, as well as for individuals who feel isolated rather than well supported within the team.

Leaders who understand affect management are more likely to be able to reduce these tensions and promote a more cohesive, resilient team environment and this briefing is timely as many academics are now planning for several more months of remote working. Face-to-face interaction will continue to be limited at universities worldwide while governments work to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

Discussions around #BlackLivesMatter have been active, and occasionally acrimonious on Twitter over the past 3 weeks and experienced academic leaders will be working to ensure that this does not lead to further ‘fault lines’ by protecting safe spaces for the expression of strong emotions and checking on the team climate as well as the health of individual colleagues.

Download the full Oxford Review brief here

If you have found this article useful please let us know what other subjects you would like to see covered in these occasional management briefings from Global Academy Jobs.  Our friends at The Oxford Review have a wide library of resources on issues that apply to universities as well as other organisations.

The main paper referenced for this brief can be found here

Secondary references are listed in the full briefing.

Wendy leads the team at Global Academy Jobs. She also makes respectable tea but should leave coffee to experts.

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