Strategies on how to keep your virtual team connected.
By Heather Furby (CEO, Creative Age Leadership Inc)
Virtual teams are a fact of business life. So what does it take to run an effective, top-tier team that shares goals and project deadlines, but not office space?
First, let’s all get on the same page…I am defining a virtual or remote team as any work group which:
has core members who have a shared project goal
interact primarily through electronic means
are dependent upon each other for the outcome – i.e. they’re not merely a group of independent workers.
A virtual team may consist of individuals who work from home or from a network of smaller offices, which is often the case when companies acquire other companies. With large, international corporations, virtual teams may also consist of people working in global offices at multiple locations.
We have interviewed dozens of leaders of effective virtual teams and combined that with our own work, which focuses on teaching managers to become leaders by navigating the special needs of today’s workforce. Here are five basic keys to lay the foundation for top-tier performance of your virtual team:
Physically meet; especially in the beginning.
A statement like that can seem to contradict an article on effective remote management and virtual teams, but face-to-face communication and team building is still essential to building relationships and developing trust, the building block for effective teamwork. Use the time to get to know one another through ice-breakers, creating your shared vision and creating a common language for success.
Have an extended set of sessions to kick off a project and then come together at least 4 times per year. This allows people to get out of their heads (and all the made up stories about fellow team members) and connect over creative and inspiring conversation.
Systems beat goal and roles!
Although every leader must establish team goals, roles and who is responsible for what…virtual teams create an inherent challenge to this need. You often have individuals who are motivated by very different things, one of those being independence. It becomes paramount to focus on systems so that critical information is available to anyone at anytime.
By focusing on what information needs to be shared, and exactly where, in what form, and by when you can release all the time spent worrying and wondering HOW your team is collecting and sharing the information. For day to day communication and chit-chat, consider having a virtual “water cooler.” Instant messaging with the ability to create persistent, virtual rooms works great for this purpose.
Assess and Release
Ideally, when tasks need to be assigned, they should be given to the person most aligned to the required outcome that motivates him or her.
An assessment can help managers understand precisely ‘who’ they have on their team. We recommend the Core Values IndexTM (CVITM) by Taylor Protocols because it gets to core motivations. It is not a personality test. The results of the CVI do not change over a person’s lifetime, so they can be used to match people to the type of work they naturally love to do.
Knowing team members’ core motivations enables you to assign projects they enjoy. Working with a virtual team can leave people feeling isolated, but if you know what motivates each person, you can bring out the best in them – and enable EVERYONE to give their highest and best contribution.
Can you hear me now communication?
Team leaders must reach out for one-on-one check-ins and communication in order to get a true sense of where the project is heading and how progress is coming along. A personal, voice communication (historically known as a phone call or in-person meeting) is imperative. Voice meetings with the full team should be kept short – use these for minor check-ins and communicating information (one-way). Fundamental, creative brainstorming should be done in person. There’s just no getting around being in the same room when a large degree of interaction is required.
Share a bigger piece of the pie.
Members of virtual teams can become very focused on their own part of a project. To make sure everyone on the team always knows how they fit into the big picture, an effective leader consistently communicates the overall vision, mission and goals for the company and for the group.
The bottom line to remember is that leaders can manage process, procedures and outcomes, but they must communicate with people. When charged with leading a virtual team, it is best to know the individual motivations of the members and then design your project with the people in mind. Once processes and procedures are established for the team, if members leave or need to be replaced you have robust systems in place that make it easy for new people to come up to speed.