Project Management Institute

A Typology Framework for Virtual Teams


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Padhraic Ludden, University of Limerick, Ireland
Ann Ledwith, Director of Continuing and Professional Education at the University of Limerick, Ireland



Virtual Teams
Collaborative project management

This research investigates the existence of patterns of virtual project teams and their impact. It identifies team typologies and their relationships, as well as the impact that identified types of teams have on the performance of virtual project teams.


“To date there is no empirical research to support the existence of various virtual project team typologies proposed in the research literature.”

To date there is no empirical research to support the existence of various virtual project team typologies proposed in the research literature. The research investigates if there is empirical evidence to support the existence of patterns for virtual project teams. The research establishes the impact the identified patterns/types of teams have on the challenges of working on a virtual project team.


The results of this grounded exploratory research are based on a quantitative survey sent to a sample of PMI members which yielded 521 usable responses.


A review of published papers on the nature of virtual teams suggests that there are eight key characteristics used to investigate virtual teams, which are shown in Table 1. The hard and soft attributes of each characteristic are delineated. Based on these characteristics the researchers developed a survey instrument for studying the typology of virtual teams.

A hard characteristic is one that can be easily quantified (e.g., number of team members, number of team locations). A soft characteristic, not easily quantified, is based primarily on the subjective opinion of the survey respondent.

Table 1. Hard and soft attributes for each key characteristic

Key Characteristic Hard Attribute Recommended project management approach
Temporal dispersion

• Team members in different time zones

• Time difference between time zones

• Extra hours worked

• Difficulty of task execution

• Impact on functional -workshop relationship between team members

• Lack of understanding of different physiological and social habits/norms

• Time delays causes confusion

Geographic dispersion

• Number of locations

• Geographical distribution of

• Locations

• Team structures at locations

• Key location


• Number of languages

• Mandatory language

• Number of nationalities

• Number of organizations

• Number of functional departments

• Number of subject matter experts

• Recognizing different cultural situations

• Understanding different economic, social and legal conditions

• Adapting to different cultural situations

• Sensitivity to cultures reflected in communication and interaction

• Dominance of organizations

• Use of organizational processes

• Integration of functional department members and subject matter experts into the team


• Team and team leaders political reputation and standing

• Team autonomy and freedom

• Team leaders interaction with team and team organizations


• Team vision and goals

• Alignment to vision and goals

• Formal/job role versus expertise and knowledge

• Knowledge transfer and sharing

Team membership

• Number with fully dedicated role

• Number with dedicated roles

• Number reporting directly to team leader

• Number of contractors

• Experience working on virtual teams

• Experience working with other team members

• Diversity of knowledge

Communication technology

• Use of communication technologies

• Experience using communication technology

Task complexity

• Team skills

• New group required

• Dependency on individuals

• Uncertainty

• Time pressure


The research identifies four typologies for virtual team projects:

img   Low Virtual Virtually Challenged,

img   Low Virtual Virtually Enhanced,

img   High Virtual Virtually Challenged, and

img   High Virtual Virtually Enhanced.

Based on statistical differences the virtually challenged versus virtually enhanced are the two most different typologies and low virtual versus high virtual are the two least different typologies. In other words, virtual teams are differentiated more by their soft attributes than by the hard attributes of time and geographical difference.

The empirical study of the relationships between virtually challenged and virtually enhanced teams shows that while there is very little difference between these two typologies on demographic structural variables such as team makeup and organization size and class, there is significant differences between the typologies in the impact of temporal dispersion, knowledge diversity, experience in using communication technology and project cost.

For the typologies high virtual and low virtual, there is significant difference between the two typologies in their structural makeup, organization size and class, and use of communication technology, but there is no difference in the impact of temporal dispersion, experience in the use of communication technology.

The findings show that soft characteristics of virtual project teams have statistically significant relationships with project success. There is a significant difference between project success for virtually enhanced and virtually challenged teams, with enhanced teams consistently out performing challenged teams. There is no significant difference between project success for low virtual and high virtual teams.


Ludden P, Ledwith A. A Typology Framework for Virtual Teams. Newtown Square PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2014.


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From Academia: Summaries of Research for the Reflective Practitioner | April 2016


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