Successful Virtual Teams
When my client Ted told me that he was going for a promotion where he would manage and lead 10 different individuals from across the globe, I asked him what his plan was for creating a successful virtual team. “Nothing different than I am doing now.” I knew he was in trouble if he responded the same during his interviews. Virtual teams are more becoming the norm in corporate America as a great way to save money, locate your people near the customer and provide savings by not having a brick and mortar office in numerous locations. But leading a virtual team to success or working on a successful virtual team is much different than if you work in an office together. Let me share some of the best ways to lead or be a part of a successful virtual team.
First, highly successful virtual teams need to engage and converse often, especially on a personal level. Virtual team members need to feel like people know them and appreciate them and that they have teammates they can talk with during the workday. Working on a virtual team can be lonely and isolating so interaction is key to the success of the virtual team. When you have conference calls or web meetings make sure you spend some time bonding your team through finding out how everyone is doing and what is going on in their lives. While it is not necessary for everyone to share personal information, it is important for your team members to get to know each other beyond their daily work duties. I would strongly suggest your team members reach out to each other and keep in touch for both business and personal support.
Second, have the right type of meetings. Meetings that are monologues ruin virtual team meetings. Virtual team meetings need to be conversations amongst the team members so everyone feels involved and connects not only to other members of the team but also to the project or task that is being discussed. Everyone needs to talk! Now, this may be difficult at first and will require you to ensure everyone is participating. Don’t give up--the culture and norm of monologue meetings will change within a few weeks.
Third, make sure you hire the right people for your virtual team. You are looking for employees who work well on their own but also can work in a team environment. If you hire individuals who don’t want to communicate or do not possess the skill of collaboration it can wreak havoc on your virtual team. Focus on communication and collaboration skills and the ability to work and complete tasks by being self-motivated and self-disciplined. Be very clear from the outset what the expectations are not only concerning the work but also concerning meetings and team connection and communication.
Fourth, to increase communication and connection hold weekly coffee breaks for 10-15 minutes when everyone is working. Get everyone on a conference call and have a coffee break where everyone “just talks.” It will feel like you are pulling teeth at first to get everyone on and talking, but studies show people will actually start to like the communication and connection. Send out a topic a day or two before such as “favorite 70’s or 80’s movie.” You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find out about your team members. Remember you are working with people who may be isolated much of the day so it may be a transition to get them to change a bit of their workday in order to take a weekly virtual coffee break.
The fifth way to lead or be a part of a virtual team is one of the most important! You need to have face-to-face meetings at least once a year! It is imperative that you find a way to hold at least one meeting a year. This provides the opportunity for everyone to see and talk in person with those they work with. Meeting together builds camaraderie, trust, and connection. My recommendation is that you have the meeting for at least two to three days where half of Day Two should be spent in a team-building event. (It will take a day for everyone to get past those initial barriers and open up to each other.) Make sure that you have at least one dinner that everyone can eat together. On the second day, let them have dinner on their own but require that they have at least one other person on the team with them. This lets individuals build their own friendships and connections. Not everyone is going to connect and you shouldn’t expect that to happen but it will do wonders for your team. If you have new members join the team you need to try and get the group together as soon as possible so the new employees will immediately feel a part of the team.
Remember to look for warning signs that a virtual team is not doing well. Decreased communication is one sure sign that things are not going well. Passing the buck with responsibility or blame is a hallmark example that your virtual team is not working together. Communication and connection are the keys to your successful virtual team.
This is important information to master because virtual teams are becoming more and more commonplace in corporate America. Learning how to lead a virtual team or how to be a contributing member of a virtual team can put you ahead of others when you interview for such a position. Knowing this information can really help you-- it helped Tim when he was asked how leading a virtual team is different than leading a team that offices together. Remember, it is your career!