In this series of Blogs, we will discuss Virtual Team Strategies designed to ensure that the Virtual Team itself thrives and is successful so that assigned goals and tasks can be achieved.
Minimizing Isolation needs to be a significant part of any Virtual Team strategy. Members tend to feel left out of the decision-making process and as importantly, the “advancement ladder”. It is therefore incumbent upon the leader to actively promote and enhance the external visibility of the virtual team and its members. It is not unusual for VT’s to become the “forgotten team” since they are seldom or never seen within the larger organization. Physically bring individual members of the team into the corporate office whenever possible or have them present their ideas virtually to those in the traditional workplace environment. This will expand their value within the organization, make people aware of them and quite frankly give them a certain reality within the organization that won’t exist if they are never really seen and heard.
Another strategy to be considered is ensuring that your VT is intentionally supporting and aligning themselves with key leaders and teams within the traditional environment. Work to create allies in departments supported by your team as well as with the teams that support and appreciate your team, team members and their activities. At the selfish level, leaders will find that their teams and team members are more highly valued by the organization if there is support for them within “The Office”. Teams and team members are more likely to be appreciated and retained during difficult business periods if they have the support of those “within the building” and they become more than just an unknown, unseen “virtual entity”.
Due to the very nature of the teams, isolation becomes an issue for everyone on a Virtual Team at some point. Therefore, leaders need a strategy to keep the team informed about what is happening within the organization. No matter how great the company website is or what communications come out from HQ – leaders need to create and maintain access to current events and information and keep their team informed and up to date. In short, leaders will find that they must work continuously at making their team aware of the “obvious.” Many VT members say they get the most important information from there leader – not company communications. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the leader remain up to date and well versed in what is happening within the organization. This includes interpreting ongoing situations or changes and advising, in advance, team members of any potential issues before they occur.
For VT leaders, attention to detail is critically important. It is necessary to leave the least amount of room possible for “guessing” on the part of your team. Leaders may feel like they are over suppling teams with details and information – but that is seldom the case. A lack of relayed details and information can turn quickly into major perception issues as people are limited in who they converse with on a regular basis and as mentioned above, the leader at times becomes the primary source of updates and information. People will fill any informational void with their own interpretations or those of another potentially uniformed member of the team or a single perceived “authority” based within the organization. People seldom “go positive” in these situations. Team members can only judge situations, teammates, intent, implications – and their leader – by what is shown to them. Without visual cues, the leaders tone, energy and enthusiasm transmits both the value and any concern regarding relayed information or issues – ensure that all hear it.
With the above in mind, leaders of VT’s must work to create a virtual “water cooler.” Team meetings tend to become task oriented and important side-information may not get shared. Start each meeting with an informal check in with members of the team – this is also a good way to utilize the dead time when the team is assembling online. When talking to team members between meetings, leaders will often hear about things other team members are doing, personally and professionally. After ensuring that the relayed information is not private, during meetings ask the individual about those things you’ve learned about them and ask them to share it with the team. Many people would simply think it is not of importance to share this type of info in what many times are perceived to be Task and To Do meetings – but it is critical in the development and maintaining of the team that people hear and understand what others are doing and are interested in pursuing.
The above is one of a series of articles discussing the creation, development, and care of effective dispersed or virtual teams. David spent 18 years working in these types of teams, from individual contributor to Director of a team of field based engineers and support staff. These articles are based upon his successful experiences both leading and participating in virtual teams.