4 Tips For Making Your Virtual Team Experience A Success
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan
Quick question . . . when you think of being part of a virtual team, what immediately comes to mind?
Do you see virtual teams as little more than a technological advancement that can connect people without actually creating a connection?
Do you see virtual teams as being impersonal, and therefore ineffective at building the necessary rapport and relationships to create sustainable success?
Do you believe that without face-to-face interaction, it is difficult if not impossible to build a cohesive, productive team?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are not alone.
The Whites Of Their Eyes
William Prescott’s famous command at Bunker Hill “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” has today become a proverb for not acting before you have some chance of success. This raises the question, what if you can’t see the proverbial whites of their eyes?
Sure, with Skype and other similar type mediums, we are not talking to a faceless voice over the virtual airwaves. We can actually see the other person – even if they are on the other side of the world three or four time zones away. However, when you are part of a virtual team, such interactions are usually limited to scheduled meetings. Outside of these sessions, you are for all intents and purposes working alone.
You can’t simply and conveniently pop your head into a co-workers office to run an idea past them that may, in turn, lead to a spontaneous revelation that can then quickly be shared with others in the same office.
There is a certain personal dynamic that just doesn’t exist in the virtual realms.
Despite these kinds of reservations – which were highlighted in a Forbes article by Sebastian Bailey titled How To Beat The Five Killers Of Virtual Working, virtual teams are a reality – whether we are comfortable with them or not.
In this month’s eNewsletter, I will provide you with 4 essential tips on how to transform your virtual experience from isolating to engaging.
1. The Rules Of Communication Are Still the Same
Far too often, virtual teams get lost in the technology.
The same rules for interacting in person are the exact same when you are talking virtually.
This means that you have to listen to what the other person is saying as opposed to simply tuning in, then tuning out. When I say tuning out, what I am talking about is doing other tasks simultaneously during a meeting.
For example, if you were in a meeting with a group of people in an actual boardroom, would you, while someone was talking, text message? Would you get up and, without excusing yourself, go and get something to eat? Would you mute them and catch-up on your e-mails?
The fact is that far too often when you are not physically present, you tend to wander and do other things that you would never think of doing if the other people were right in front of you.
You have to look beyond the technology, meaning that you have to have the discipline to be present at all times.
Here are 3 things you can do to be an active presence:
- Find out why you are invited to the virtual call and what the agenda will cover. In this way, you will be prepared to make a contribution to the discussion rather than hide behind the safety of your mute button.
- Support your virtual host by reinforcing their messaging if needed.
- Be a team champion by speaking out to validate your team members’ contributions.
2. Before Going Virtual, Meet In Person
While it might seem like a contradiction, it is important to have all members of a virtual team meet once at the very beginning. Ideally, a subsequent semi-annual or annual meeting in person would also be a good thing.
Research shows that even though you can still build teams when circumstances make it impossible for everyone to meet in person, taking this important first step lays the foundation for assigning not just a face, but a personal connection with each individual. As a result, there is a firm foundation upon which to build an executable game plan for success – including the assignment of responsibilities.
A Harvard Business Review article that highlighted the “Ten Basic Principles” for making virtual teams work, listed the personal meeting as number one on their list.
Many of my clients for example, travel across the globe. If this relates to your business lifestyle, find the time during your travels to set up face-to-face meetings prior to arriving at that destination. Even a ten minute coffee break together can kick-start a relationship faster than any virtual dialogue.
3. Create An On-Line Community
The water cooler has come to symbolize the central meeting place in an office, in much the same way that the town square was once the hub of community news.
Far too often, virtual team interaction is limited to scheduled on-line meetings and sporadic communications between two or three team members that happen to – by chance or circumstance – connect and build a rapport outside of the group. These groups within a group never work well for anyone.
The fact is that to build a strong virtual team, you must create a place where everyone at anytime can share an idea or ask a question.
This is where closed on-line communities can play an important role.
On social networking platforms such as LinkedIn, you can create a closed group for just your virtual team. Each member can then post a question or share an update with the entire team, without having to wait for the next scheduled general meeting.
I consider this to be the glue that strengthens the bond between individuals on the team, as it fills the aforementioned communication void. When a question is posted, a notice can be automatically forwarded to everyone else in real time. Everyone stays connected at the same time – no one is left out.
An added benefit is that regular virtual meetings will then become more productive. This is because you will spend less time on dealing with individual updates or issues, as they will have been handled outside of the main sessions – with everyone being kept up to speed. This in turn will free you to focus on the main game plan for success – including where you are in terms of the team’s primary objectives or goals.
4. Eliminate The Hologram Effect
We all know what a hologram is . . . an image that appears real but is lacking in physical substance.
In other words you can see it, but it is not really there.
When it comes to virtual meetings, you want more than an image of presence and effectiveness, you want to have substance. You want to make a real connection as well as a tangible contribution.
The following pointers will help you to create a substantive presence before the call:
- Build bridges (virtual and in person) between key influencers in your company. Seek out their strategic perspectives and vision for growth and change in addition to their concerns with your competition.
- Research competencies admired in your organization so that you will know how you can stand out.
- Develop measurable skills that will magnify your strengths and valued as a resource.
The above 4 tips represents the foundation to transform your virtual interactions into something meaningful.
It starts with having the right mindset in terms of how you conduct yourself in a virtual meeting, creating a solid relationship base in terms of actually meeting in person as a team, establishing a regular communication capability that keeps everyone connected all of the time and, making yourself uniquely essential to your organization.
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