How to make the most of your Virtual Team

Time to Read:

3 minutes

Naveed Mughal

The Virtual Team

A virtual team (aka geographically dispersed or remote team) is made up of people in different physical locations who rely on communications technology such as email, voice and video conferencing to collaborate. It allows employees to manage their work and personal lives more flexibly and gives them the opportunity to interact with colleagues around the world. But research suggests that most people consider virtual communication to be less productive than face to face interaction and half admit that they feel overwhelmed by collaboration technology. So how do you create and lead an effective virtual team?

How to create and lead a Virtual Team?

  1. The right team

Hire people suited to virtual team networks (those with the right skills and qualities), put them in groups of right size (to make them feel more responsible and for inclusive communication) and divide labour appropriately (give them suitable role e.g core, operational, outer). 

     2. The right leadership

Which fosters trust, encourages open dialogue, clarifies goals and guidelines, establishes a common purpose or vision etc.

    3. The right touchpoints

e.g. an initial meeting, face-to-face or using video, to introducing teammates, setting expectations for trust and clarifying team goals, getting them on-board through video conferencing and mentoring and getting them together to celebrate short term goals etc. all of which allows a group of strangers to work together before long-term bonds develop.

    4. The right technology 

i.e. conference calling, direct calling and text messaging, discussion forums and virtual team rooms, 

10 Basic Principles of making Virtual teams work

1. Get the team together physically early-on. 

2. Clarify tasks and processes, not just goals and roles. 

3. Commit to a communication charter.  such as limiting background noise and side conversations, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace, listening attentively and not dominating the conversation, and so on. The charter also should include guidelines on which communication modes to use in which circumstances.

4. Leverage the best communication technologies. from shared workspaces to multi-point video conferencing — 

5. Build a team with rhythm.  for example, having regular meetings, ideally same day and time each week. It also means establishing and sharing meeting agenda in advance, having clear agreements on communication protocols, and starting and finishing on time. 

6. Agree on a shared language. Take the time to explicitly negotiate agreement on shared interpretations of important words and phrases, 

7. Create a “virtual water cooler.” The image of co-workers gathering around a water cooler is a metaphor for informal interactions that share information and reinforce social bonds. 

8. Clarify and track commitments. this can be partly addressed by carefully designing tasks and having regular status meetings. Beyond that, it helps to be explicit in getting team members to commit to define intermediate milestones and track their progress. One useful tool: a “deliverables dashboard” that is visible to all team members on whatever collaborative hub they are using… 

9. Foster shared leadership.  Examples include: assigning responsibility for special projects; or getting members to coach others in their areas of expertise; or assigning them as mentors to help on-board new team members; or asking them to run a virtual team-building exercise. 

10. Don’t forget the 1:1s. Leaders’ one-to-one performance management and coaching interactions with their team members are a fundamental part of making any team work. 

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