A virtual team is a group of people who work toward a common goal and are connected by technology though physically separated. Virtual teams scare a lot of people, who have visions of spending their time on all-night conference calls and not being able to trust team members they can’t see.
Nevertheless, the trend is coming at us like a full-speed train. A Google search of “virtual teams” revealed some interesting 2011 research published in Hypergrid Business, a magazine devoted to virtual teaming.
The study, “Virtual Work Environments in a Post-Recession Era,” conducted on behalf of Brandman University by Forrester Consulting, revealed strong adoption of virtual teams. Forty percent of survey respondents said that 40 percent or more of their company’s employees work in virtual teams today, and more than half expect virtual teaming to increase in the next one to three years.
Managerial concerns associated with virtual teaming are many. 57 percent cited earning trust, 49 percent cited communicating effectively, 43 percent cited managing projects and deadlines successfully and 43 percent cited creating consensus during decision making as among the top concerns.
Considering that virtual teams are so pervasive and so many managers are losing sleep over them, this Culture Beat column includes some virtual teaming best practices in the style of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits.
1. Highly effective virtual teams are comprised of employees with the “Three A’s” – assertiveness, accountability, and ability to work independently
Team members take responsibility for getting their work done and know when and how to speak up with concerns and suggestions. Because solid results are ensured, they possess a certain degree of flexibility.
2. Highly effective virtual teams comprehend expectations
Roles and responsibilities, as well as team rules and protocols, are tightly defined. Team members know how to arrange a meeting in another time zone, how to escalate an issue, and how to get in touch with a colleague about a time-sensitive issue. Feedback is clearly communicated. Assumptions do not exist.
3. Highly effective virtual teams are infused with relevant technology
Team members have access to the most sophisticated collaboration tools so that project work is efficient and seamless. They make use of instant messaging, videoconferencing and social networks to converse in real time.
4. Highly effective virtual teams are familiar with the in-person dynamic
Team members have met each other in person more than once in both a business and social setting. Although not always feasible, a single in-person gathering makes it much more likely that employees will trust and like each other.
5. Highly effective virtual teams have a visible manager
Team members are more engaged, more productive, and less stressed when they see their manager in the flesh from time to time. They know what their manager is working on and are well-informed about how team activities impact the organization’s bottom line.
6. Highly effective virtual teams build and maintain solid relationships
Team members understand how important it is to jump on the phone and talk through conflicts, and to learn about their virtual colleagues as people. Especially with a new team or new hire, the buddy system is helpful in igniting bonds.
7. Highly effective virtual teams run great meetings
Agendas are sent out in advance. Team members are punctual because they know the meeting will be short and productive. Discussion time is built in to allow for input and consensus. Sensible ground rules–like reducing ambient noise–keep the group focused and on track.
Virtual teams, let’s hear from you. What makes or breaks your team?
Alexandra Levit is a former nationally syndicated business and workplace columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.