Managing Virtual Teams
November 24, 2009 by Rose Cook
As you well know, at FlexPro, we’re big advocates for flexible work. Our consultants are geographically dispersed, servicing our clients at multiple locations, so the FlexPro team is itself a “virtual team” of sorts. Additionally, our project management consultants lead their own project teams that are often “virtual”.
With the global nature of today’s business and ready access to technology, this is the way of the world, so here are some tips on how to manage a virtual team. Many of these are based on my own personal experience leading global (and often virtual) project teams in the pharmaceutical industry.
Hold a face-to-face kickoff:
If at all possible, invest the time and money in a face-to-face kickoff meeting before starting a project. Budget this into your project cost. Believe me, it’ll reap its benefits multiple times over! Nothing can replace the human element of communications. I have many of my own examples of people I’ve met only once in person, yet continued to develop strong virtual relationships with over several years. Without that one-time face-to-face interaction, the relationships would not have developed nearly as well. It’s a simple fact that if people get to know each other, not only professionally, but personally, they work together much more effectively.
If face-to-face just isn’t possible, move onto the next best thing. Video or web conferencing can work too, but not nearly as effective.
Agree on communication ground rules and preferences:
As a team, decide by what means and how often you will “meet” regularly. Will you have a teleconference or web meeting every Mon from 10-11am? Will you alternate mornings and afternoons to better accommodate time zone differences?
When you do come together, utilize today’s available meeting tools such as WebEx, Live Meeting, etc., to keep everyone focused and engaged. It’s so easy to get distracted and feel the pull to “multi-task” when on a group teleconference with nothing to focus on visually. As the leader, acknowledge each team member by name, not only at the beginning of the meeting but throughout. Engage each person’s participation by involving him/her in the discussion proactively. “John, what is your opinion on this topic?”, etc. Pay particular attention to those team members who are less apt to speak up unless asked. You don’t want to miss out on their contributions. Showing genuine interest in each team member’s contributions goes a long way to building trust, a key element to effective teams.
For communications outside of regularly-scheduled meetings, how will the team interact? Instant messaging, text messages, email, phone? Does the team prefer a discussion board or chat room so everyone is included in “conversations”? Agree on these at your kickoff meeting.
As team leader, you may also want to set up regular “1-on-1” meetings with key team members. These go far toward strengthening these relationships.
Create a central repository for key documents:
Use available technology tools to create a central location to store key information for all team members to access – eRooms or other document sharing options. Even create a central group calendar, if appropriate.
Try to develop a team culture where everyone is willing to “push” out information and share with the group, rather than keeping to themselves. As the leader, you can establish this culture as the norm by doing this yourself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how many will follow your lead.
I’ve only touched on a few tips on managing virtual teams. There are many more. The key is to facilitate open and effective communication and to build trust amongst the team members. It’s the team leader’s role to help build this trust and utilize available technology tools to help do so.