Previously these blogs addressed key components in forming a cohesive virtual team; Team Size, Structure and Composition as well as Qualified Leadership and Team Members. In this series, 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.
Building Relationships and Trust
Building trust and solid relationships is key to effective, successful and effective Virtual Teams. It is incumbent upon the leader to have both the desire and willingness to meet, in person or virtually, one-on-one with each team member in a reoccurring but unstructured manner. Simply getting know team members outside of pure work situations is critical to building trust between leaders and the overall team. Having a genuine interest in the people on your team and taking the time to simply talk to them about their life outside of work, their interests, their families and allowing them to get to know you better will go a long way towards building trust. Virtual team leaders must do this with more intention because there simply is no “water cooler/lunchroom” conversation that occurs naturally in traditional teams. Virtual Team leaders will find that, over time, this kind of conversation allows them to establish reciprocal trust and creates an environment in which it becomes easier to listen for and hear the “quiet” or unsaid concerns and questions that team members have that need to be both understood and addressed.
Once trust is established it is a good time to identify, understand and embrace the diversity within the team. Building trust can ensure that the diversity present online is appreciated, promoted and leveraged by all team members. Leaders that have built solid trust within their team will be able to maximize the diversity within the group.
Due to a lack of visual feedback and trusting relationships, leaders of Virtual Teams have the tendency to “let things slide”, especially when they must deliver bad news or provide unpleasant feedback. This is deadly in a virtual environment as the problems just get bigger over time, spread throughout the team and the silence on the phone will grow more and more intense.
Effective coaching is always a challenge for most managers, particularly when they lack the opportunity to observe their team members working and interacting with the rest of the team on a regular basis. Nonetheless, coaching is as important, if not more so, when the team is dispersed. Leaders of virtual teams need to set individual and group expectations, monitor the team’s progress, and give feedback, just as they would if everyone were sharing the same location. The difference is that VT leaders must substitute daily observations with more tangible and measurable aspects of productivity. Examples include; work output, timely deliveries, deadlines met, completed projects, collaboration with other members and assisting and providing expertise to others and the team. Leaders should also plan regular feedback for the team in a group environment such as a web meeting or conference call, as well as for individuals via phone calls, and other visual channels of communication. Building sound relationships and trust allows leaders to address difficult situations quickly in a phone conversation – never by email or text.
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.