Working in virtual teams is one key challenge in the digitization of companies today, both for employees and leaders alike. You may have a team that is spread over different cities, regions or even different countries. How can you ensure that this team will achieve the best results and satisfy your customers’ requirements at its best? This article will give an overview of challenges you as a virtual team leader face, and some tips as to how you get your leadership approach right.
The good news is, if you manage your virtual team right, it can even outperform teams that share the same office space, according to the Aon consulting report.
Effects of Distance
As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports, distance is the greatest challenge in managing a virtual team. There are different kinds of distances, like geographic, temporal, cultural or linguistic. Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, explains that these distances affect two core mechanisms that are crucial for the effectiveness of your team: Shared identity and shared context.
Tips for Managing Virtual Teams and Create Shared Identity and Context
There are different aspects for you as a leader to consider, reports Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of “Who’s Got Your Back”, in the HBR: The composition of the team, your leadership, meeting offline and Technology.
The composition of the team:
- Team members: Keith Ferrazzi found in their study, that successful virtual team members have some abilities in common: Emotional intelligence and good communication skills, for example. If you have the possibility as a team leader to interview your fellow team members so that you gain insights for more effective collaboration amongst the team.
- Size: Virtual teams should not be too large. OnPoint Consulting, for example, found that virtual teams perform worst at a size of 13 and above. So, keep your team smaller, if possible.
- Roles: Ferrazzi Greenlight recommend working with sub teams, if a project requires team members from multiple departments. One option, for example, is to define a core, operations and outer part of the team (similar to the X-team strategy by MIT professor Deborah Ancona).
If you are an experienced team leader, the following aspects may sound familiar to you: foster trust, encourage open dialog and clarify goals and guidelines.
Even if you are working together as a virtual team, meeting in the real world from time to time can foster shared identity and shared context. This is especially important when you start building your teamwork. So, meeting in one location face-to-face for your kick off, can help your team get a better start. As a leader, also think about how you can manage the onboarding of new staff. For a new team member who starts to work in your virtual team, her integration can become a very difficult challenge; so, help new team members with an initial offline meeting. Another possibility to get your team together in one location could be, when you achieve a certain milestone. Celebrate this success with you team, and give them the opportunity to share some experiences in person.
Technology is what connects your team; Keith Ferrazzi reports that even the most talented team fails virtually, if the technology is poor.
Ferrazzi Greenlight recommend a system that integrates these three key components: Conference calling, direct calling and text messaging as well as discussion forums or virtual team forums. Involve your team prior to deciding on the technology.
If you want to learn more about virtual teams and how to optimally manage them, give Annette a call. She has worked with and managed teams virtually in shared office spaces for more than 25 years. Through coaching you can become more aware of sensitivities in your virtual team. Coaching helps you set goals and establish the communication as well as resolving conflict. Ultimately, coaching supports you in raising the bar to high performance.