Yesterday, I shared some of the biggest challenges of virtual teams. And there were plenty! Today, based on my virtual team experience, I’m sharing a list of what I consider the most important measures to take that will help you create (and sustain) a productive and successful virtual team…and work as if you’re actually sitting next to each other.
Choose Your Team Carefully
Of course, you won’t always be able to select the members of your team. However, if you can, be sure to get enough information not only on skills and experience, but also personality traits and behaviors. One type of personality is not necessary better than another when it comes to working virtually, but it’s important to know how your team members are likely to act and interact with each other so you can anticipate potential problems.
Communicate Well and Often
Good communication tops just about every team management must-have list. Without it, there isn’t a team. With a virtual team, not only does communication need to be clear, concise and consistent, but you also need to make sure each team member has access to the same information. Each team member should have an understanding of what the others are doing and how each person fits in with the rest of the group, and that can only be accomplished with good communication.
Trust is one of the most important elements in any working relationship. It’s also one of the hardest to develop in a virtual team environment. It takes time, but you can create a team based on trust by:
- Being respectful of each other
- Listening and hearing what others are saying
- Focusing on consistent communication
- Saying what you’ll do and doing what you say
- Being honest
Always Follow Through
This point relates back to the trust point, but is important enough to earn its own list item. Many teams have bitten the dust because one member repeatedly dropped the ball. Following through is especially important with a virtual team because other members may not have any idea that someone is slacking until it’s too late. So it warrants repeating: say what you’ll do and do what you say.
Think, Then Act
Most virtual teams communicate via email, instant message and/or online collaboration workspace. This kind of communication can be subject to misunderstandings because it’s not always easy to convey a certain tone in written communication. It’s important to remind yourself that just because you don’t see the other person, there is one on the receiving end. So take some time to think things through before sending a message that may not be interpreted in the best of ways.
There is so much virtual teams can do with technology to really make it feel like virtual team members are sitting in the same room. Explore some of the technology available – particularly teleconferences, webinars and even screen sharing – to enhance the virtual team environment.
Documentation and data sharing is vital for high performance virtual teams. All processes should include a clear written summary so any member of the team can jump in and pick up work if they need to. And these process documents and any other information needed should be located in a central location accessible by everyone.
Make Expectations Clear
For some, it can be challenging to work in an environment where you’re not getting regular feedback on daily work. This can make it difficult to know if you’re even on the right track when you’re just moving along on your own. Without clear expectations and a system for sharing those expectations, team members may end up wasting time and effort.
Just as everyone on a virtual team needs to carry their own weight, each member also needs to be accountable for what they do, or don’t do. If someone messes up but doesn’t own up, the team can waste significant time retracing steps, trying to figure out what went wrong.
One element of virtual teams is not flexible – the virtual aspect. Even the most effective teams face challenges working virtually. So each team member needs to be on the same page when it comes to goals, and then be willing to make compromises to overcome the challenges and reach their goals.
Many of these tips can apply to all kinds of working relationships, but they are especially important when it comes to virtual teams. What is your experience with virtual teams? What would you add to this list?
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