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Prepare for the Success of Virtual Teams

A Client Story

One of my clients just went global! Very exciting for them, but lots to consider. One of the biggest challenges they are facing right now is how to ensure that virtual teams are successful on their initiatives. This is a challenge because previously they were based within the United States – east coast, west coast and Chicago. It was easy enough for teams to communicate and even to get on a plane to meet to kick off initiatives or to problem solve issues that arise. Now they have offices within Canada and in the United Kingdom.

While the executive team still wants to enable for major project teams to get together for project kick-offs and initial planning meetings, it will be a bit more difficult to do that as the company continues to grow. Additionally, for smaller projects it won’t make sense to for team members to travel.

The executive vice president of human resources asked me to pull together a virtual training session on how teams can work together successfully in a global environment. All senior managers, mid-level managers and individual contributors will be taking the session. Here are the topics that will be covered with the goal of providing best practices, skills and knowledge for employees to effectively work and collaborate in virtual teams:

  • Enabling for relationship building on virtual team
  • Using team charters and collaborating on team norms
  • Creating shared visions and processes
  • Creating a virtual collaborative environment
  • Communicating between meetings
  • Ensuring effective virtual team meetings
  • Problem solving and managing conflicts on virtual teams
  • Decision making on virtual teams

For virtual teams to be successful, they need to be provided the tools, techniques and best practices that will enable for success. Working with others virtually requires a variety of processes and procedures to be developed collaboratively and adhered to in order to enable the team to meet their goals.

I have found that even when virtual teams do have processes and procedures in place, they forget one important component of virtual team success – taking the time to build relationships among team members. Team members are more likely to work together effectively when they have gotten to know each other and are comfortable with each other.

In fact, the most important thing the team leader can do when the virtual team is selected is to arrange a meeting to get to know each other. This time might also be utilized to discuss the initiative on which the team is working, but it is essential that much of the time is spent on socializing to build strong relationships between team members. I have found that if I spend at least 1 hour enabling for socializing among team members, collaborating on our team charter, team norms, roles and responsibilities and how we’ll solve problems, make decisions and resolve conflicts is a much easier task to accomplish!

For socializing with the team, include a variety of activities that enable the team members to share their own experiences and talk about what is important to them outside the workplace. Start with questions that ask them about their skills and expertise in their roles and then move to questions that enable for a personal connection, such as:

  • Types of movies they enjoy
  • How they spend their weekends
  • What is their favorite place to go on vacation
  • What kinds of pets they have

And so on.

These are easy enough questions for individuals to answer and enables them to get comfortable with each other. The stronger the relationships on the team – the better the performance of the team overall!

Next article: The Impact of Cultural Diversity on Virtual Teams

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