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Elvis, statistics and virtual teams

At the time of Elvis’ death there were an estimated 170 Elvis impersonators in the world. Today there are at least 85,000 Elvis’s around the world. At this rate of growth, “statistically speaking”, one in three of the world’s population will be an Elvis impersonator by 2019.

I share this for two reasons. Firstly, I’m always suspicious of how statistics can be used to make a point – in this case an absurd, if humorous, one. Secondly, statistics can help us understand what is happening around us. There are a lot more Elvis impersonators in the world than there used to be, and the number keeps on rising.

Virtual team statistics

“So what does this have to do with virtual teams?”, I hear you say. Spend 10 minutes surfing the internet, and you can find numerous statistics on virtual teams. Here’s a sample…

  • 66% of multinational companies make extensive use of virtual teams i.e. project teams, management teams, service teams
  • 7 out of 10 managers believe virtual teams will become increasingly prevalent in the future
  • Between 49% and 52 % feel that time differences impact the team’s success –   with the standard solution being people are working much longer hours to ensure their availability for team meetings.
  • 15%-28% of team members feel that a lack of awareness regarding other team members ‘workloads is a recurring problem. Virtual team leaders feel the problem is greater.
  • Somewhere between 51% – 79% of virtual team members feel that the lack of personal relationships within the team cause problems
  • Ineffective leadership styles negatively impact a virtual team’s performance (25 % to 71%)
  • 55% to 73 % of virtual team leaders feel that decision making is too slow
  • 71% of teams feel that there is a lack of active participation amongst team members
  • Between 10% and 47% of international virtual teams feel that inadequate English language skills negatively impact the teams results
  • Differences in cultural norms also present challenges in communication, decision making and building relationships within the virtual team (26 % -49%)
  • 81% feel that poor communication and inappropriate information sharing (too much or too little) between team members impacts team’s success
  • Not knowing how to effectively use the technology available is an issue for at least 1 in 5 virtual teams
  • Only 16% of teams have had any training on working in virtual teams

What does this really mean?

Returning to the two reasons I mentioned earlier – yes, we’re using statistics to make a point about virtual teams. We’re a training company, and yes, we’d like you to invest in training. However the statistics above do help us to see what is happening. Just as there are way more Elvis impersonators today than there were in 1977, it’s clear that virtual teams are here to stay, that the challenges are known, and that we need to begin addressing and overcoming these barriers if we’re going to become truly effective when working virtually.


Obviously, no training program can remove the issue of working across time zones, but practical hands-on training does have a part to play in many of the other challenges facing virtual teams. Task-specific business English training can alleviate the basic problems caused by language barriers, and if you integrate a cross-cultural element into your training you can raise awareness of the impact culture can play on business relationships and communication. Soft skills training can make virtual team leaders much more comfortable and effective when managing virtually. This in turn will address challenges such as slow decision making, dealing with undercurrents and conflict, and driving active team participation. Finally, the technology isn’t that demanding. It’s more a case of learning to use your tools effectively and adapting your communication and team dynamics accordingly.

An upfront investment in training can and will bring your virtual teams tangible long-term benefits. Now take a look around you and imagine who’d be wearing that rhinestone jumpsuit. Lord almighty, do you feel your temperature rising?


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4 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    In my opinion, language training is an investment that certainly pays off. Investing money now to reap the rewards later is not always easy, and the effort it takes to improve your foreign language skills is definitely hard to make, but studies show, time and time again, that employees with good language skills are able to command higher salaries and to find better, more interesting jobs.

    I remember a department leader of a DAX30 retail company, who I used to train, being extremely impressed by a new junior member of his team’s ability to speak five languages. What a great start to that young team member’s career!

    Please let me know if you agree that languages are worth investing time and money in.

  2. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    Hi Scott!
    You mentioned poor communication and inappropriate information between team members as a common problem. Inadequate English language skills certainly increase that problem. So I’m glad to benefit from the training I receive by one of your team-members.

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