Virtual teams are split by distance. Parts of the team are located on different sites in various parts of the country (or countries).
Therefore loyalty and commitment is often to the site team and not to the bigger team. This can be to the detriment to the overall team performance – often resources and best practice are not shared, there is petty rivalry between sites and the “big picture” relating to what the team is in existence to achieve is not understood.
This situation creates a big challenge for the virtual manager.
To maintain a team identity in a virtual team the following areas need to be given careful consideration.
1. Establish a common purpose
Working at a distance highlights the need for the manager to ensure that there is agreement on the overall purpose of the team and that all team members understand and accept the team’s primary task. Also everyone needs to understand and agree the team’s main objectives and how any conflicts in priorities are to be dealt with.
Ask yourself whether the team has a sense of direction, a clear vision of what constitutes success and shares the same values. If the answer to these questions is no then there is work to be done
2. Define team members’ roles and responsibilities
Make sure that everybody has a clear job description, which outlines areas of responsibility and key tasks.
Find out what team members expect of each other and whether these expectations are shared. Establish whether individual and the team’s objectives match. Examine whether there is any overlap or duplication between individual roles that could cause conflict.
Ensure that work is distributed equitably.
3. Have correct processes and procedures in place
Team members who see each other infrequently need to be confident that processes and procedures are in place that will help effective teamworking. You will need to consider, among others, the following:
- Assess how decisions are made and in particular establish if authority levels are clear
- Review your current communication strategy
- Determine how problems and conflicts are to be resolved.
- Critically examine how you currently manage meetings.
- Assess how activity is co-ordinated
- Review whether reporting procedures are understood and adhered to
4. Work on team relationships
Encourage team members on the different sites to get to know one another. at both a professional and personal level. This can happen if there is a social side to team meetings or if there are exchange visits between sites.
Ensure that feedback on individual performance is shared throughout the whole team, especially successes.
Team building events are an ideal opportunity to improve personal relationships between members who see each other infrequently.
5. Have teambuilding events
Virtual team members rarely get the opportunity to meet together as a whole team because of the distance. Residential team building events are therefore very effective in overcoming this obstacle. The aim of teambuilding is to help the team to function more effectively. It is about improving performance and results and resolving issues that are getting in the way. It is also an ideal opportunity to cement relationships. Events can be residential and non-residential and the use of a facilitator can often help the team clarify and resolve issues.
Maintaining a united team across sites is one of the most difficult challenges facing the virtual manager. A team working together, united by a common purpose and working to the same objectives is difficult to achieve and requires a lot of hard work. However the rewards more than make up for the effort.
Best wishes on your growth journey wherever it may take you.
John Stein – Founder of the winning formula