The Care & Feeding of Virtual Teams
The good news about technology is that teams can be spread throughout the world, offering a rich background for global enterprises. The difficult news is that time zones and the absence of visual interaction can cause teams to stumble or even fail to start at all.
To create a vibrant, resilient virtual team, consider these steps:
If at all possible, have the teams meet face-to-face in a single location when the team is formed. Expensive, yes. But - looking into someone’s eyes, breaking bread, and finding commonalities can make huge strides communication and cohesion.
Restrict the size of virtual teams to the number of people who can be seen at one time in a medium like Zoom or Goggle Hangout.
Insist that video be used and not just audio. Here’s why. Too often, the absence of video lets an attendee multitask instead of paying attention, listening carefully, participating fully.Some members might balk at the request but it is important. Let them know why.
Isolation and loneliness are epidemic in our business world.To keep this from happening in a virtual team, devise small interactions that allow participants to begin to see the others as full human beings.Here are some examples: • Ask team members to introduce themselves with this statement “If I could have one last meal to eat, I would choose…” •Ask team members to introduce themselves by sharing a fact that no one except immediate family and/or friends know about them. I’ve literally heard team members reveal everything from swimming with sharks (not the corporate kind) to trekking with Mongolians across the steppes. This latter adventure came from a woman whom most regarded as shy and withdrawn! • Ask team members to explain who the most significant person in their life is and why (restrict all comments to 90 seconds). It can be done. • Ask team members to come up with a NAME for the virtual team and either a mascot or a slogan. You can assign this in pairs. Vote on the best name. • Take turns assigning a person to be the summarizer of the virtual meeting.You are only limited in your imagination. But each request allows virtual team members to get to “know” the others. You can also share the “ask” assignments with different members of the team.
Determine short term goals and how the virtual team can celebrate each milestone.
If the team is to disassemble and a new team to be formed, create a closure exercise that ask members to state what was most valuable about being part of the virtual team and what could have made it even better.
Note that teams that meet face-to-face on a regular basis can also use these techniques. Insist that all digital devices like smart phones be put away whenever the team gathers. Now more than ever, it is the communication we hold with the people in front of us that determines relationships and outcomes.