Virtual Teams: Getting People to Work Apart

September 1, 201410:30 am1030 views

There are advantages and difficulties posed by virtual teams. On the one hand, theres the benefit of being able to engage and enlist on your teams the most appropriate people, regardless of location. However, remote teams can also be difficult to form and maintain. Without effective collaborative systems, they may fail to deliver as promised or simply fail.

Leading a virtual team requires a strong and varied skills portfolio, but success of any kind of team relies on balancing three elements: results, processes and relationships. Results are the outputs of the team and are what the company measures. But its important to remember that a leaders attention to process and relationship concerns impact heavily on the team’s ultimate results.

See: Make employees office-bound? Stanford prof says adopt telecommuting

In terms of team members satisfaction, results concern the desire to strive for an outcome or accomplish a task. Processes points to the human need for predictability and influence. Relationships underscore the need for rapport: How people are treated and the extent to which they feel valued, fully participating and safe.

Successful team leaders act in ways that satisfy all three needs, with teams that have excellent productivity levels. When the three are unbalanced, team performance plummets. Virtual team leaders can’t rely on building rapport in hallway conversations with team members, nor can they use typical in-person visual cues like a smile, a nod or a pat on the back.

Virtual team leaders can best build relationships and create a healthy process during virtual team meetings. In fact, the most powerful way to address virtual team effectiveness is in the team’s meeting.

Key strategies to improve a virtual teams interaction success are:

1) Provide clear desired outcomes.

Review these at the beginning of team meetings.While apparently obvious, meetings can go adrift because they lack this essential anchor to a purpose.Desired outcomes should answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” For team members, set clear goals for the meeting and help everyone understand if the goal was accomplished when the meeting is finished. This creates a sense of accomplishment. As an aside, its also a great way for the meetings leader to determine if a meeting is even necessary to begin with.

2) Give everyone a role.

Too often, meeting leaders try to do everything themselves. Assigning someone else to record, facilitate and keep time is beneficial. It engages everyone and reduced the burden on a single person via delegation. Giving team members active roles in the meeting helps the meeting stay on track. More importantly, it keeps everyone engaged and invested.

3) Make relationship-building part of the agenda.

We create a common culture as a result of each team interaction. Using a variety of techniques to build relationships and develop a positive, collaborative culture reaps dividends. Keep it fresh and interesting by mixing it up. You must plan for relationship building; otherwise it gets subsumed into tasks. You don’t want the relationship among team members to become just another task. Let the group come up with ideas so it’s not just something being imposed by the leader.

Credit: Stewart, L. (2014).How Do We Get People to Accept Working Apart. Workforce

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