Key characteristics of successful virtual teams
RiverRhee Consulting Associates have worked in and with many virtual teams over the years, but our recent work has tended to be with more localized teams.
Last month, Elisabeth Goodman had the opportunity to facilitate a global virtual team’s start-up workshop in Germany. Part of the team members’ preparation was to read some related articles to help them explore what practices they might adopt.
Lorraine Warne has been working with a Japanese company (QQ English) based in the Philippines, since September 2009, as their Global International Trainer/Coach. Lorraine started with an initial face-to-face 5-day communication training programme with their then 28 employees, which included the directors and managers. Since then the organisation has grown to 350 employees, and Lorraine has mostly coached and trained them via Skype one day a month, interspersed with annual face-to-face Leadership or Management training. Her last face-to-face work with them was in May.
In this newsletter we share our reflections on the key characteristics of successful virtual teams.
First a quick round-up of some of the other things we’ve been doing
Publication of our last (bimonthly) newsletter in June coincided with Elisabeth Goodman’s return from Belfast where she delivered a 1-hour interactive seminar for BIALL members on: Climbing the positive side of the change curve. From a member of the BIALL committee: “Whilst we have not yet collected the official written feedback, the oral responses I received were, without exception, hugely positive. Your subject matter was extremely relevant to our profession and you provided us with lots to think about in the way that we deal positively with change.” The formal feedback will be following later this month.
Still on the subject of Change Management, Elisabeth designed and delivered a tailored version of our course with TFPL – Promoting Information Literacy for end users – for the Information Services team at the MHRA. A case study of the MHRA change management workshop is available on our website [link].
John Riddell and Elisabeth attended the launch day of APM’s new Knowledge SIG . It was an excellent opportunity to hear the latest thinking amongst practitioners of Knowledge Management with a focus on its application to Project Management. See Elisabeth’s blog for her notes from the meeting, structured around the 50 tweets that she wrote about it during the course of the day!
John and Elisabeth are continuing their research for their publication “Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry” for Gower, and have now completed more than a dozen interviews of previous and current practitioners in this area.
Managers of virtual teams need a “much broader skill set”
One of the references that inspired us was Erin Meyer’s “The Four Keys to Success with Virtual Teams” . She concludes her article by saying that “managers with geographically scattered teams need a much broader skill set that those with traditional co-located teams.” She also says that they “need the ability to switch between skill sets, based on the diversity of their team members and the distance between them.” It seems that we’re looking at a model for creating ‘super’ versions of high performance teams, and that’s what the next three characteristics focus on.
1. Speaking with one voice – customer facing
We spoke in our last newsletter, on creating exceptional teams, of the importance of a team vision. When the team members are geographically dispersed, this living, breathing vision becomes even more important: they will be interacting with customers almost independently at each of their locations, so what they communicate must be consistent.
A consistent vision, a clearly understood purpose, shared values in how they interact with their customers and the ability to make decisions, or escalate issues based on that common understanding, are all essential characteristics of a virtual tam. The team leader may need to be particularly directive in ensuring that the team speaks with that one voice.
2. Establishing a strong core – inward facing
This is where a combination of good interpersonal relationships and sound working practices will come to the fore. A virtual team will often be more culturally diverse than a co-located one and the ability to understand and value the diversity and strengths of each of the members will be essential. So will having clearly worked out team practices around such areas as communication and the sharing of information, and the format, frequency and content of meetings.
In our experience, it is vital that virtual teams have at least an annual face-to-face meeting to build rapport and connect 100%. Every six months would be even better. Virtual working cuts out body language by a large degree, therefore it’s important to find ways to home in on the tonality and facial expressions when working via Skype or other technology based collaborative working tools. Just walking around and smiling when speaking over the phone can make an enormous difference to the quality of communications.
The whole area of trust is an important one, and the Wikipedia entry on Virtual team‘s suggestion that team members are encouraged to assume trust is one that we have seen working in practice!
3. Fostering continuous renewal – the outward and inward facing loop
Again, this was a topic that came up in our previous newsletter. It will be particularly effective where all team members are engaged in sharing their expertise, strengths and insights for the benefit of the whole virtual team, and are alert to reasons for reviewing their vision, purpose, values, relationships and ways of working.
So what one person learns from interactions with their local customers could be of value to their colleagues’ interactions with customers elsewhere or indeed to any other aspect of the team’s working practices.
Geographically dispersed team members can also each play a leadership role to benefit the rest of the team by looking for opportunities to deliver the greatest value in the application of their individual areas of expertise and strength.
Inviting an “outsider” (either from within the company or external) along to a meeting can also provide some new insights and stimulation to the group. These “outsiders” can be specialists who might present or lead a discussion on a current topic of interest, a “thought leader” who might inspire new ideas or innovation, or simply someone to sit in and give some feedback on how the group is working.
Finally, technology obviously has a big role to play in supporting the interactions between a geographically dispersed team, both in real, and in asynchronous time. Whilst we value that role for technology, and have supported the design and implementation of collaborative working tools, we’ll leave further discussion of that topic for another time!
Do get in touch
To find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, our range of off-site and in-house courses, and how we can help you to not only enhance team effectiveness but create an exceptional team see the RiverRhee Consulting website or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.