In today’s globalised business environment, virtual teams are a common organisational structure. The days when all team members were physically located in the same office and spent their working days together are long gone. It is, however, easier said than done to make virtual teams work.
Many Factors At Play
Virtual teams can be very complex, crossing not only geographies but also language, working styles and diverse cultures. All of these attributes can make virtual teams more complicated. Organisations can leverage these attributes to make effective virtual teams, or they can lead to dysfunctional teams.
Characteristics of effective virtual teams have been identified in an article published by the Harvard Business Review. Good virtual teams provide a platform for employees to work more flexibly; organisations can cut down on costs for everything from travel to salaries.
Good virtual teams must also recognise that remote communication and unclear management are common reasons why virtual teams can fail
Making Virtual Teams Work
What are the most important requirements for a successful virtual team? Here are four tips for making virtual teams work. We hope you find them of value – we certainly hope you have more successful virtual meetings than the one portrayed in this hilarious video:
1. The Right Team
Good virtual teams are often limited in size to a manageable level
Good virtual teams must start with good people. These people will generally have good communication skills, emotional intelligence, be self-starters who work well independently and have good cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity.
Good virtual teams are often limited in size to a manageable level. Small teams of less than ten people are considered to be ideal. This maximises the chances of effective and inclusive communication within the team.
Good virtual teams also define clear roles within the team. Core members strategise. Operational members may lead or manage the team’s work and generally focuses on daily matters. Outer members generally implement the work according to their areas of expertise.
2. The Right Leadership
Good virtual team leaders recognise the importance of trust as a key characteristic to the team’s success
Good virtual team leadership means attracting leaders with certain skills. These skills may not always be the same skills valued in a traditional leadership role for a locally located team.
Good virtual team leaders recognise the importance of trust as a key characteristic to the team’s success. Trust is fostered by an attitude of respect and empathy.
It is also gained by emphasising relationship building amongst virtual team members. Relationship building is generally more difficult when team members are rarely if ever face-to-face. Utilising technology wisely can overcome some of these challenges.
Trust and relationship building are the foundations for giving team members permission to speak openly and frankly. Good virtual teams ensure that members speak up, including during times when difficult topics must be raised.
Clarifying goals and expectations go a long way to reducing uncertainty and increasing trust. Virtual teams benefit from improved productivity.
3. The Right Touchpoints
Team members should meet physically at least once a year
No matter how good a virtual team works in a remote environment, there are times when team members should come together in the same physical location or, when this is not possible, absent members join through videoconferencing or other visual media.
Important times include at the very beginning of a project, when it is structured and roles are defined. As new members join a virtual team, the entire team benefits from a face to face meeting, both for the new members as well as for the earlier team members, whose virtual team composition has now changed.
Celebrating milestones and other achievements are also an important time for the virtual team to share their success.
4. The Right Technology
Good virtual teams understand the effective use of technology
Good virtual teams understand the effective use of technology. Conference calls, video conferencing and other tools that give the team a platform for open communication enhance team productivity.
However, it’s also important to remember that simple communication tools are also very effective. For example, simply picking up the telephone when two team members have a quick question can be much more effective than setting up a complicated conference call or webinar.
Complicated technology works well when it works well – it can also become the focus of a virtual team meeting rather than the task itself. Take a look at the YouTube video above to see how technology can get in the way of an effective virtual meeting.
Is It Worth It?
Remember, that making a virtual teamwork is hard work. It is not meant to be easy. Building a good virtual team takes dedication, effort and the right ingredients but the benefits can be enormous for those companies that get it right.
We’d love to hear about your experiences of working in remote teams? What worked for you? What do you wish had been done better by the team members or the managers of the team? Want to learn more about making virtual teams work? Why not take a look here at one of our programmes on global virtual team working.