By Online Instructor Vivian Harte
(More about this instructor below)
Due to technological advances, virtual teams are more prevalent than ever. If you work at home at least one day a week or have co-workers who work in other branches or even other countries, you’re part of a virtual team. Keep reading to learn crucial tips from the 6-week online class, Building Teams That Work, that will help make your virtual team more productive.
Strategies for Successful Virtual Teams
Normally, people see their co-workers in the workplace every day. But if you’re on a virtual team, you may never see your teammates in person. It can be a challenge to build cohesiveness in the virtual workplace because having face-to-face interaction is crucial. It is ideal to have in-person interaction, but when that’s not possible, members can get to know each other through videoconferencing, or simple maps with pins and photos identifying each person’s physical location.
Once everyone can put a face to a name, it’s time to start building team spirit. This will help the team work together toward common goals and ultimately be more productive.
Here are a few ideas to help you start building that team unity:
- Find ways to highlight individual accomplishments. If you know one of your teammates won an award or did a good job on another project, send the team a message about it. Have you ever met anyone who hated praise?
- Create a chat area or a Web forum where team members can start up discussions or pose either professional or personal questions. This helps you build a virtual community, where your members meet socially.
- Have telephone conference calls in which you and your teammates get to know each other instead of focusing on the project.
- Pick a day of the week for all the members to e-mail their teammates some personal message or information, like their hobbies, greatest accomplishments, favorite vacation places, or family activities. No one needs to respond. It’s just to get to know each other.
- Hold conference calls for teaching skills involved in the project or talking with an expert in the field.
- When (and if) your team meets face-to-face, check the newspaper or Web sites about local events and plan to attend one together.
Once your team is ready to get moving, it’s important to build a communication strategy. In a virtual environment, it’s easy for team members to feel disconnected. This can lead to a variety of problems, from people over- or under-reporting what they’re doing to people taking one another’s contributions for granted.
Have your team address these questions to build a strategy for communication:
- What, when, and how much are we going to communicate?
- Where and how will we communicate, and what technology will we use?
- What strategies can we create to foster communication about the right things at the right times?
Certain parts of the project may require more collaboration. Identify which parts of the project are repetitive and routine (requiring minimal communication) and which are varied (requiring much communication).
Since team members may be in different time zones, one member may just be getting out of bed while another is eating dinner. It may be impossible to set a meeting that’s within normal business hours for all team members. When this is a problem, rotate the hours so everybody has to work in the early morning or late evening at times.
Sometimes the time difference can be an advantage, as when one group of people can send projects at the end of their workday and have comments from teammates on the other side of the globe when they come in to work the next morning. The disadvantage is that the window of time to discuss the work may be small, so multiple e-mails or phone conversations can be necessary to solve that problem.
The most important thing to remember is that even though you may be thousands of miles apart, you are all working toward a common goal, and you are all part of the same team.
About this Instructor
As a professor at two colleges for over 14 years, Vivian Harte taught students how to build and maintain successful teams. In the workplace, she helped teams create a city’s strategic energy plan, write a state’s recycling manual, organize and facilitate educational conferences for recycling coordinators, and make recommendations for improving college policies for faculty members. But perhaps her favorite work is interacting with students online to help them build the kind of teams that make a difference in workplaces across the country.