The Challenge of Virtual Team Building

Core Strategies for Working Remotely.

Creating a great high-performance team when everyone works out of the same office is a big challenge, but when your folks are spread out across multiple offices, time zones and sometimes even continents, the challenge is exponentially multiplied. In working with several large companies that have far-flung offices and operate numerous virtual teams, I’ve found there are a few core things to focus on to build, sustain and motivate a virtual team.

A shared vision of success.

Although a key to making any team highly successful is a clear, well-communicated and vivid vision for what the team is trying to accomplish, it is absolutely vital that a virtual team has a specific mandate and detailed measurements of success. Without this sort of clear direction and focused metrics, a virtual team will become confused and dysfunctional very quickly.

 

Build closeness at a distance.

One of the elements of building a winning team is spending a lot of time together to foster stronger personal relationships and high levels of trust. But on a virtual team, it is often impossible to get everybody on the team into one place at one time. So, the team must make every effort to build personal relationships and create closeness even though they work at vastly different distances from each other.

This is accomplished by sharing pictures, stories, pertinent family and business history, hobbies, fun facts and other information so that you create a dialogue around building closer personal ties across the virtual team.

Use multiple communication channels.

It’s easy for regular team members to schedule a meeting and sit down together, but virtual teams need to take advantage of every type of technology to create highly effective communications. That means phone conferences, Skype calls, video conferences, email, and one-on-one phone calls—every conceivable way to keep in close and clear communication.

 

Set extremely clear expectations.

Virtual teams do not have the benefit of lots of face time, so it is essential that they establish clear ground rules and expectations for precisely how the team will interact, how they will make decisions together, how they will treat each other, and how they will work through team conflict together. Distance destroys clear communication, therefore it is essential to define and specify team expectations as clearly and precisely as possible to avoid any miscommunication, hurt feelings or confusion.

IQ plus EQ.

As with any kind of team, you want truly talented and competent people with a relatively high IQ. However, on a virtual team it is also mandatory that people have a high EQ, or emotional quotient, so they can detect the concerns, worries, fears and emotions of people even though they are not standing next to them. This ability, to have empathy with people even with restricted communication channels, is the hallmark of a superior virtual team member.

Tough on ideas but easy on people.

Every team needs to be able to embrace an assertive level of intellectual rigor, without destroying relationships, to make sure that only the best ideas win. However, on a virtual team, you remove much of the body language and inflection that allows people to infer meaning and intent in a message. The team members need to be especially skilled at asking difficult, awkward, focused and probing questions—while still maintaining a courteous, respectful and professional tone.

Celebrate small wins.

All teams enjoy celebrating successes, but it is even more important that you find ways to celebrate small wins (and big wins too) on virtual teams, because this helps make up for some of the lack of face-to-face interaction and the sort of team camaraderie you can build by being together. Everybody likes to be on a winning team, even if they don’t get to play on the same field.

Most of the struggles on any virtual team are about lack of communication, lack of clear expectations and the difficulty of building strong personal relationships. If you apply the points I have listed with focus and discipline, there is a good chance that you will see a positive impact on the success of your company’s virtual teams.

 

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