Four ways to improve virtual team performance

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Last month we facilitated a team development workshop with a senior leadership team who are genuinely working virtually because of organisational and client requirements. What captured our interest and that of these senior leaders was research findings from a range of sources suggesting success for virtual teams is low.

A recent Harvard Business Review article[1] has provided further validation “82% of virtual teams surveyed fell short of their goals and 33% rated themselves as largely unsuccessful”.

The focus of our work with this team, whose members are located in four distinct locations, was determining those factors essential in building their success as a virtual team. Collaborating over two days we determined the following four factors formed the foundations on which the team was to build success:

  • Shared Purpose /Cause/Belief as a team. This is the ‘corner stone’; every team member is crystal clear why the team works virtually and what benefits result individually, for the team, for clients, and ultimately for the organisation.
  • Building and Maintaining Trust within the team
    • Ensure the right people are on the team and the team is of the right size; 10 to 15 people are optimum. We have heard of but never experienced virtual teams of 50 people or more.
    • Selection goes well beyond choosing people with the required skills; people need to have a combination of toughness, initiative, flexibility, adaptability and hardiness, so they can motivate themselves when working alone and be able to ‘bounce back ‘quickly in the face of challenges.
    • Diversity is essential. Deepen understanding of each other’s experiences (life and work), expertise and experiences.
    • Leader’s visibility and access to the team.
    • Roles need to be clear with particular emphasis on ensuring bounds of authority are clear.
  • Communication. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, however in our experience we found these are essential:
    • Conversations have to be open and to the point with questioning skills finely tuned.
    • Team members commit to strengthen one-to-one relationships outside of formal meetings or events.
    • Understand each other’s preferences for working and communicating virtually. We find the ‘one size fits all’ approach to be unproductive.
    • Use technology to make communication easy e.g. instant messaging.
  • Teaming and Collaboration
    • An email or conference call introducing new members to the rest of the team is insufficient. Induction of new members needs careful planning and considered implementation otherwise new members will find integrating into the team challenging and frustrating as will existing members of the team. \
    • Develop ‘signature behaviours’ to guide team interactions. As an example people in the team we’re working with admitted that on occasions they were not focused on the conference call, instead they were checking emails and in one case booking accommodation. The team agreed – all devices are turned off or to silent when not in use when members are on conference calls.
    • Build regular face-to-face and social interaction time into the yearly calendar – so often over looked or cancelled. Avoid making face-to face meetings only about business, leave time for informal discussion and opportunities to share and celebrate team achievements
    • Create on-line collaboration spaces beyond formal conference calls or meetings where team members can contribute to topics and conversations of interest, informally and as needed.

Dispersed teams and telecommuting are becoming a necessary part of the way we work.  These insights will assist you with your virtual team building, and we are happy to meet with you to provide more information and insights from our experiences with building people and performance.

Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.

[1] HBR December 2014 Managing Yourself – Getting Virtual Teams Right