Tip 1 – Establish Ground Rules or Ways of Working for the Group
This is an essential for any group process. Spend time at the start of your work together to develop common ground rules or ways of working to frame how you will work together. These should be written down and circulated to the group as a reminder.
Number one rule -- Don't assume! It's very dangerous to do when you are in a room together, and even more so for when you are working across time, geography and cultures!
Some examples of ways of working for a virtual team might include:
* Start and end calls on time
* Rotate call times to meet the needs of different team members in all time zones
* Respecting all team members ideas and perspectives (which does not mean agreeing with all of them, rather respecting them)
* 100% Focus on the meeting at hand (and not surfing the net, reading other materials, sending emails during the call)
What else would you include in your group’s groundrules?
Tips 2 and 3 – Be respectful of time
A major challenge, and opportunity, of holding team meetings across distance and timezones, is that participants may be calling in at different times of the work day (or even before or after work). Some team members may be gearing up for the work day, others may be winding down.
Virtual Team meeting management requires respect of time on two levels:
1. Start and End the meeting on time. If the meeting is set to 60 minutes, make sure that the meeting is 60 minutes
2. Set calls at times convenient to the group -- for example, setting a 10 am call Toronto time, would mean 7am for someone in LosAngeles, 4 pm in Germany, and midnight in Japan. Take a look at where your team members are located, and if necessary, rotate call times to make the convenience equal for all members. If a majority of members are based in a similar time zone, ensure that the call has enough leverage and substance to warrant different time zone team members calling in in their pyjamas.
Tip 4 – Have an agenda - and one that works!
A really common pitfall for most teams today is the Death by Meeting syndrome, so wonderfully captured in Patrick Lencioni's book of the same name.
Lack of an agenda or roadmap for in-person meetings can be deadly, and for virtual teams exponentially so!
Some quick tips for virtual team meeting agendas include:
* Circulate the agenda a day or two before the call (keeping in mind the impact of weekends in different time zones)
*Recap at the end of all calls: agreed action points, who will be accountable, next steps
* Time at the start of meetings for a short update from all callers
* Ensure that there is enough time for all essential items to be covered. If you find that meetings consistently go longer than 60 minutes and you just can't squeeze it all in, what about going to a 75 minute, or 90 minute format?
* Circulate the key meeting points or a recap next steps as close to the end of the meeting (within hours,not days of the meeting end). A simple template approach can be quickly used for this.
Tip 5 – Build connections outside of the meeting
Virtual Teams often start off with great gusto and energy. The lack of face to face meetings can make it difficult for some teams to sustain the inital energy over time.
Wherever possible, create opportunities for team members to build connections outside of the meeting. Whether it is holding formal face to face meetings on an annual basis (strongly recommended, and in great frequency than every year!), or creating informal virtual networking functions outside of the usual team meetings, time spent by the team outside of the formal meetings can help to support the team's development and sustained performance.
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