Tag: Virtual Teams

How to Succeed With a Virtual Team

How to Succeed with Virtual Teams

Succeeding with traditional face-to-face teams can be challenging enough, but succeeding with a virtual team can be just as hard, if not more so. Inspiring a team to create and meet goals, maintain motivation and work together are only a few obstacles when managing a team that you cannot see on a daily basis. But with effective communication and a little discipline, any virtual team can succeed.

Setting Clear Goals

Setting goals are one of the most elementary processes that can lead to success. After all, you don’t know where you’re going until you determine what you want! Clear goals are normally set for the team as a whole as well as each individual teammate. The manager works with the team to determine what they want to achieve over a set amount of time (i.e. increased sales, decreased absences) while the employee sets their own goals about what they want to achieve as a member of the team (i.e. decreased data errors, increased personal productivity). Setting goals with your virtual team can help them stay task-focused and can make them feel as though they are making a difference on the team.

Tips for setting goals:

  • Determine what you want to achieve
  • Define a path that can help you get there (there may be more than one)
  • Decide what you will do when you reach that goal

Related: Goal Setting Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

A Standard Operating System is generally a company’s process or procedure that it follows in the workplace. Sometimes a company does not feel the need to document these procedures, since many people may already know it. But creating these procedures and correctly documenting them allows the manager to share them with other employees and create them as a type of guideline and resource. As a manager, review some of the procedure and processes that have worked for you in the past and try to create them into an SOP. Although it can be time consuming, it will be worth the benefits in the end. On a virtual team, these can be especially helpful for employees who may not have experience on the team yet.  They will come to you for help and will need to learn procedures if they are to contribute to the team.

Build a Team Culture

Your virtual team is your family. Every member should take the time to know each other and familiarize themselves with someone else’s situation. After all, every member of the team is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect and friendliness. If employees are not able to socialize locally, allow them to have a chat room on a private server or virtual community they can come and go in to speak with other employees on a non-business level. If possible, assign projects or assignments in pairs or small groups to encourage further mingling and socializing. When the employees feel as though they are part of a family, they see other teammates as family also and will create their own team culture they can fit into.

Related: Dealing with Culutural Differences in YourTeam

Provide Timely Feedback

Positive or negative, feedback is a great tool to help employees at work. On a virtual team, giving timely feedback is important to the team’s overall success. Employees need to know how they are doing on assignments and need to know if they need to change anything. Since the manager cannot randomly approach the employee to give feedback as they would in person, it is best to set up regular, scheduled sessions (such as by phone or chat) to alert the employee of any negative feedback that needs to be addressed or any positive feedback that should be shared. This will require the manager to get to know the employee personally so that the feedback sessions are not awkward or uncomfortable.

 

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How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

Creating an open and honest environment in the team is a key factor to keeping team members happy and productive. In a virtual team, it is just as important to remain open with your team members and keep them in the immediate loop of information. Since they are not always in a central location, it is essential to keep them updated on current happenings in the company and in their department. When the team members feel included, they learn to trust you and will look to you when they have questions.

Related: Trust Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Trust Your Team and They Will Trust You

Trust is a key component in any relationship, personal or professional. Virtual teams can have additional problems with trust when they are not always in each other’s company. They can be unsure about what is being said or if they are doing as well as they should. As a team leader, it is important to show your trust in your team first. Show them that you trust them to complete their work and trust them with crucial information, such as potential job reassignments or even closures. When the team feels as though you trust them, they can, in turn, learn to trust you. They will instill their trust in you and confide in you when they have concerns or are worried. This trust not only builds a stronger relationship among the team members and team leader, but also the entire virtual team.

Beware of “Us vs. Them” Territorial Issues

Often times when management tries to solely run a team without regards to its members, the employees can begin to have that “Us against Them” mentality. They begin to believe that management is only looking out for management or does not value the opinion of the team members. This can cause further resentment from the team and can affect the whole team’s productivity. Remind your team that you are on their side and that you realize that the team works together to accomplish the same goal. Let them know that they are included in many of the decisions made (although not ALL of them), and that their presence on the team is valued. When a team member feels as though they are part of the working machine, they are less likely to feel like an opposing force.

Share Best Practices

A form of ‘best practice’ is loosely defined as a practice that has proved productive in the past and has results behind it to back it up. Sharing best practices with your virtual team can be a great move when faced with some of the same situations. Common forms of sharing these practices include sending them through email or forming some kind of instruction sheet. Some team members may need to be counseled in person or shown how to follow a process step by step. Sharing these practices shows trust among the team and trust that they can continue the chain of success.

Best practices:

  • Processes/procedures that have worked before
  • Can be shared a number of ways, including email, videos or personal instruction
  • Consult with the team regarding alterations/variations if needed

Follow up with the team to ensure comprehension.

 

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Effective Communication in Virtual Teams

Effective Communication in Virtual Teams

Effective communication is a key component to any successful team. It is especially important when managing a virtual team because not only do you deal with traditional communication problems with the team members, but virtual teams can face more obstacles trying to keep in touch. Learning helpful tools and techniques for effective communication can take any virtual team a long way.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Poor communication among team members and team leaders has been shown to cause low team morale and a decrease in productivity. Sometimes team members can feel unsure about approaching you or are not sure what to do when they have a problem. Encourage your team to engage in two way communication and ask questions when they receive new information. When they know who they can come to in a jam, they will feel more comfortable communicating their needs.

Communicate Early and Often

Early communication means not waiting for a problem to happen before addressing it. Check in with your team on a regular basis, whether by phone, email, conference, etc. Don’t let a team member struggle through a problem over a long period of time. Don’t wait for them to contact you; reach out to them to offer help. Contact each team member often and follow up after any problems they have reported. Keeping in touch with each team member not only cuts down on large problems, but it shows your support in the team and can boost their morale substantially.

Tips:

  • Create a regular schedule to check in with team members
  • Find what methods work best for each team member
  • Keep track of small problems that arise early to prevent bigger ones later

Rules of Responsiveness

Communication is a two way street and can shut down when one side doesn’t contribute or doesn’t act on their responsibility. When outlining communication techniques with your virtual team, one aspect to cover is the rules of responsiveness. Determine which forms of response are appropriate in various situations. Do you need a response right away? Is it something they can reply to later? Will you need a short or long response? When sending a communication to the team, let them know how soon they need to reply and how soon you expect to hear from them. The team needs to understand that the communication you exchange with them is very important and that they need to respond in a timely manner.

Communicate Face to Face When Possible

Sometimes communication needs to be made in person or face to face. Communication over the phone or email can often be skewed because there is a loss of tone and body language. Although this can be hard with a virtual team, there are ways the team leader and team members can work together. If distance is somewhat small, arrange a time for the team member to meet either at your office or theirs. If the distance is too great, the next best option is to use some sort of video message system, such as Skype. Although it does not replace in person meetings, it allows the team leader and team members to talk ‘face to face’ and monitor their tone and body language signals. Sometimes long distance communication just can’t deliver an effective message – so never underestimate the power of talking in person.

Choose the Best Tool

Every form of communication has an appropriate tool to use with it. Some information can be delivered by informal methods, such as email or telephone calls. Informal methods are great to use when a short or quick answer is needed rather than a longer response. Participants can share information quickly and then continue with their work. Other messages should be delivered more formal, such as face to face talks or even in a group meeting.

Formal methods are better used for in-depth messages and descriptions. The information is often lengthy and may require explanation or presentations. Formal methods also allow participants to ask questions or add their input. To choose the best tool, the team leader should determine how urgent the message is, how quickly it needs to be received, and what kind of response they are looking for. Once they determine what is to be shared and what they need in response, they can then choose the best tool for the job.

Be Honest and Clear

One of the pitfalls about team communication is that we try to hide information from each other. Tea leaders will try to ‘sugar coat’ a problem within the team or team members won’t mention how hard they are struggling with an assignment. When speaking with your team, don’t try to hide facts behind blurred words. If you have to deliver bad news, be upfront and let them know what is going on. If you need to change something they are doing or working on, be clear as to why and the effect it will have on them. When we try to hide facts or information, team members can become skeptical and will eventually lose their trust in you.

Tips:

  • Remain honest, even if it is a negative aspect.
  • Speak clearly and don’t hide the fact behind ‘sugar coated’ words.
  • Ensure the team is clear about what they hear (Any questions?)

Stay in Constant Contact

Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to reach a team leader that has fallen out of touch. Team members need to be able to reach you during regular business hours and should always have a source to contact outside those hours (i.e. on-call, second shift manager). It is especially hard for virtual team members since they cannot always physically contact you and will need some other way to speak to you when needed.

It is important for you to stay in constant contact with your team members and ensure them that you are there for them when they need you. Some examples include sending daily emails to check on progress, or making regular meetings to follow up with the team. Make a note of team members that need your assistance more often and be sure to check up on how they are doing over time. By staying in contact now, you are helping to prevent further problems later.

Don’t Make Assumptions

We all know that old saying of what happens when we assume. A common problem in communication is assuming that we have delivered all of the information needed or assuming that the team will not have any trouble with their work. These assumptions can cause us to leave our team members out to dry and cause them to feel as though you are not there to help them. The team can begin to resent you and may feel too uncomfortable to ask for further information.

Ask for the team to follow up on any information they receive, especially if they have questions or concerns. Periodically check on each team member’s productivity and ask if they are having any difficulties or need another problem addressed. Your team members can benefit from your guidance, so don’t assume they will make it on their own without you.

 

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How to Run Successful Virtual Team Meetings

How to run a virtual team

Just because your team is not at a table in front of you doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with them and guide them during a project. As with a normal meeting, there will be the issue with setting a good time, ensuring everyone shows up and making sure you deliver all the right information. The key is learning tools that can help you run a successful meeting, in person or virtually!

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Scheduling Will Always Be an Issue

Virtual teams have a harder time scheduling meetings because the team members  are not in the same location. Some team members  are in different time zones, others work different hours while the rest may be constantly traveling. One tip for managing the team’s time schedules is to keep a log or chart of a team member’s  location, working hours and where they could be assigned later. With this tool, you can determine prime times to hold virtual meetings that won’t conflict with someone’s schedule.

If different meetings need to be held, plan a schedule with the team regarding a rotation of team members staying late or coming in early to cover meeting times. Many team members are happy to abide by a schedule in which they can give their opinions. Be sure to remind the team of any consequence that can occur for not sticking with the schedule or not participating in the meeting, such as written warnings and disciplinary actions on their record. Understand that some team members may still be hard to schedule even with adjustments. So have an alternate solution handy in case a team member cannot attend group meetings. Be flexible with team members that attend meetings outside of their normal work hours, offer the next day off or maybe a half day.

Have a Clear Objective and Agenda

An agenda is very important to have in any meeting and is more so in a virtual meeting because it keeps everyone on the same track. Outline what you want to discuss and accomplish from the meeting and jot down ideas on how you can make them happen. Include specific topics that need to be reviewed and events that have happened with the team. The team needs to know there is a clear objective of the meeting and that it is not a waste of their production time. Share your agenda with the rest of the team so they can be aware of the purpose of the meeting and what they can contribute.

Tips for sharing your agenda:

  • Include it in a mass email so the team members can read it ahead of time.
  • On video calls, have the agenda displayed at all times on the screen.
  • For conference call meetings, read over the agenda first and allow the team members to take notes.

Solicit Additional Topics in Advance

Soliciting ideas before the actual meeting is an important tool to use when creating your agenda for the meeting. Speak with your team and ask if they have any additional topics they would like included in the meeting agenda. Sometimes after the team members are aware of the original agenda, ideas or topics are added to the plate, either by management or other team members. However, don’t leave these new topics as a surprise for the other meeting attendees.

It is important to share these additional topics with the team before they ‘arrive’ at the meeting so that they can be prepared and don’t feel as though they were blindsided. When the team knows of the meeting topics ahead of time, they are able to research the topic ahead of time and be able to make a meaningful contribution when they participate in the next meeting.

Discourage Just Being a Status Report

Status report type information can be sent through email or other electronic messages because it often does not include much of a response from the team. It is generally one-sided information that is meant to be informative, not discussed in depth. One of the problems of a virtual meeting is that the moderator will do most of the talking and presenting, leaving the other team members feeling as though they are only there to hear the latest status report. The same can go for team members that come to the meeting to share their information and then sit out for the rest of the time. Encourage team members to ask questions and take notes on the information given. Set aside time for team members to share ideas with one another and engage in conversation or debate about the meeting topics. These meetings are meant to be a time of learning and interaction, not just one-sided information sharing.

 

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How to Set Up a Virtual Team

How to Set Up a Virtual Team

One of the key challenges in managing a virtual team is creating one in the first place. The team leader must find team members that can work well under minimal supervision and can function with different types of technology. Don’t let geographical differences hinder the team you want to create.

Choose Self-Motivated People with Initiative

One aspect of working on a virtual team is the ability to be self-motivated and self-disciplined enough to finish the job without someone looking over your shoulder. When building your virtual team, choose team members that show self-motivation characteristics, such as making goals and having strategies for completing assignments. If looking to utilize current employees, look for employees who have had a proven record for getting assignments done and sticking to what they want to accomplish. If hiring from outside the company, look at the person’s resume and see what kind of success they have had and how they reached it.

Characteristics of a self-motivated person:

Face to Face Meetings at First (Kick-off Meeting)

Even though virtual team members will be working apart from each other, it is important to start the team in the same location, usually through some type of ‘kick-off’ meeting. At this first meeting, members are introduced to each other and usually exchange contact information. The manager would then usually introduce the goals, assignments, and future projects for the group. This is the time where employees can ask questions, discuss availability, and plan for what they will be doing during the course of the upcoming projects.

If geography is a problem for gathering everyone together, try to find a central location that is a fair distance from everyone involved. In some cases, team members may need to be present by phone or video to be a part of the meeting. Setting up a one-time video meeting or conference may be the only way to get some face time between all participants. Having that initial face time is very important to the overall success of the team.

Diversity Will Add Value

Any team leader wants a team that can all work hard and accomplish their goals, but in the same instance a team leader needs each team member to be different in their own way and utilize what they have to offer. Each team member is different and has a different set of skills that they excel at. They are able to provide different ideas and opinions that can be shared with others and create a new, unique perspective. When we bring a diverse group of employees together, they are not only able to use their diverse skills to complement each other, but they can ensure their part of the project is done to the best of their abilities, making the overall assignment a great success.

Benefits of a diverse work group:

  • Various ideas and perspectives
  • Each team member excels at their skill set
  • Contributes to the group as a whole

Experienced with Technology

One of the most important aspects of a virtual team member is the need to be experienced with various types of technology. Team members will be in different locations, but will still need to keep in contact. Many ways employees accomplish this is to communicate by phone, email, fax, or even video phone. A virtual team member must know how to operate different forms of technology in order to stay connected to other team members and management.

Assignments and projects are often sent by electronic files in a variety of programs and shared among the group to edit and sent along. If the team members do not have a high level of knowledge when it comes to technology, they may not be able to function well on a team that relies so much on it. Current knowledge as well as keeping up-to-date with new and emerging technologies is required for today’s teleworker.

 

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Virtual Team Building

Virtual Team Building
Image Source: geralt

Being successful at building a virtual team can be challenging. You need to overcome the obstacles of managing and building a team that you cannot see. Just as with traditional face-to face teams you need to inspire your virtual team to create and meet goals, maintain motivation and work together.

Set Clear Goals for the Team

Setting clear goals are an essential element to the success of any team. Clear goals should be set for each individual as well as the team as a whole. Setting clear goals for your virtual team helps the team to stay task-focused and helps the team members to feel that they are making a difference on the team. When you are setting goals it is necessary to determine what the team wants to achieve, define a path that can help the team get there and decide what the team must do to reach the team goal.

Related: Goal Setting Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Implement Standard Operating Procedures

It is vital to create standard operating procedures and to document them correctly. This will help the manager of the virtual team to share the procedures with the team and use the documentation as a guideline. Although implementing and documenting operating procedures can be time consuming, it will be worth the benefits in the end. These standard operating procedures can be especially beneficial to the newer inexperienced members of the virtual team.

Build a Team Culture

Encourage the members of the virtual team to see each other as family. Each member should get to know each other and familiarize them with each team member’s situation. If meeting locally is not an option, allow team members to have a chat room on a private server where they can speak to each other on a non-business level. Encourage interaction by assigning projects in pairs or small groups. As the team members start feeling part of a family they will start to create their own team culture.

Provide Timely Feedback to The Team

Whether it is positive or negative, providing feedback is essential to the success of your virtual team. Team members need to know how they are doing on their assignments and if they should change anything. With a virtual team, it is best to have scheduled sessions where feedback can be given. As a manager,  it is vital that you know your team members well so that the feedback sessions do not become awkward or uncomfortable.

 

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