Here is what I wrote about Virtual Team Success at the BizToolkit blog several years ago:
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about virtual teams, in part due to a request from one of my client organizations. It's taken me back to my own work as a virtual team manager, and provided me with the opportunity to reflect on some of the success factors which made our virtual teams so productive, and also fun to work with. As I have mentionned in my former work I have managed teams stretching across 10 countries of one region as well as 10 regions of one country. This led to many challenges, but also tremendous opportunities for us as a team.
The following are some of the ingredients needed to create the foundation for virtual team success:
1. Ensuring a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities - As a virtual team, the need to clearly define roles and responsibilities becomes even more paramount than in face to face team environments. As a manager, or even team member, it is critical that team members (and managers) fully understand their roles and responsibilities, reporting relationships, as well as where roles and responsibilities overlap. If you are part of a virtual team, are you clear on this?
2. Negotiating matrix management relationships - A matrix management structure exists when a professional may be managed by two different managers, delineated often by projects they are involved with. Given the nature of virtual teams, individual members may often be part of a matrix management reporting process. If this is the case, it is often beneficial to have a three way discussion between both managers and the staff member, ensuring that everyone has a common understanding regarding who manages what, what reporting relationships exist, how work processes will be weighted and prioritized.
3. Working across cultural differences - Given that virtual teams are often global in nature, or even cross-continental, it is important that cultural differences are understood. Differences may exist along several continuum, including prioritization, language, the concept of time and management. Exploring individual cultural differences as well as creating a common ground and way of working for the team.
4. Creating opportunities for face-to-face interaction - The effectiveness of virtual teams can be greatly enhanced by budgeting and planning for face-to-face interaction at least once a year. A multi-day retreat can serve as a forum for getting to know each other, creating a shared workplan, discussing strategic directions and creating a shared vision for the team and its work.
As a former virtual team manager I have seen the transformational results from multi-day face-to-face retreats with my virtual teams. Even by harnessing the best technology, we cannot replace face-to-face interaction. Although budgeting and advocating for these processes seemed daunting at times, my managers were quickly won over by the results of our first annual retreat.
I now work with virtual teams to facilitate these types of retreats, so if you are interested in discussing what is possible for your virtual team, please feel free to contact me.
5. Developing a common vision -- I have made reference to the importance of developing a common vision. A shared, common vision, understood by all virtual team members acts as an important anchor for decision making, accountability and results. There are a number of vision processes which can be undertaken, depending on the needs of the client. Developing this in a face-to-face session, at the start of the virtual team creation is ideal, although creating this mid-stream will also bring benefits to the team".
Eight years later it is interesting to see how these foundations remain the same.
Author of From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2010)
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