We’ve been supporting the development of geographically spread teams for years; global project teams, functional teams spread throughout a region, and teams located in one office whilst the manager is in a different city. All sorts of variations. And in that time we have seen some really successful virtual teams, so we’ve put together our top five factors that we think makes a really good virtual team.
1. Get aligned on your new operating principles - create a team charter
How your team works together remotely is different to face to face. So how we collaborate, communicate and resolve conflict will all need to be done differently. The risk is that we each have our own ways of perceiving how those elements should happen, so the role of the charter is to do the one single thing that can set your team up for success the most. Make sure the team is aligned in a very clear and explicit way on how they think they should be working together in this ‘new normal’. All teams should go through this process – from the C-suite down.
2. Optimise how you work between teams
Work still needs to get done between teams – and this is one of the forgotten aspects of converting a face to face business to a virtual business as the focus tends to be more on how ‘a’ team works. So there is a piece of work that successful virtual teams do that simply mirrors the principles of the above point, and provides a means for the leaders of teams to connect, share and be clear on expectations regarding priorities, eg; what business objectives are more important or how shared resources should be deployed. It also allows the team leads to create some rules of engagement for how collaboration, communication and conflict resolution happens between teams. This is underpinned by the team charter, and allows guesswork to be replaced by real work!
3. Train and be coached for working in a virtual team
Working and leading in a virtual team requires a different set of skills and mindset. The ability to understand and work with uncertainty and ambiguity, manage stakeholders remotely, build and maintain relationships and collaborate all require different development to that in face to face structures. There's no point training to ride a bicycle when you will be riding a motorbike! Good remote working training combines behavioural skills with a focus on connection at a values and relational level. But we also know that on a deeper level, there are other factors that enhance or reduce our ability to be effective in a remote team; our confidence, need for recognition, cultural background and personality (eg; rigid vs flexible). Consider coaching if you know that working remotely doesn't fit who you are...but you like what you do and don't want to, or can’t afford to leave.
4. Things Change - so keep the team charter alive
This point comes into its own in these times of rapid change. The really good virtual teams look for opportunities to reinforce a culture of collaboration by reviewing the extent to which their team charter is still a constructive means of supporting them. They use this as an opportunity to come together and to work on the team, and continually update their preferred ways of working. And when things are changing so quickly, you can’t afford not to be reviewing the way you work together.
5. Culture Matters.
Recalibrate your team culture to reflect the remote working environment. The really effective remote teams that I’ve seen acknowledge that the culture that got them here, may not get them there. A simple example of this is the shared thinking around how open and approachable we should be. In a face to face environment it may be ok that a new team member needs to work a little harder show how they fit in and being slightly more closed between teams may be acceptable. But in a remote setting that unspoken way of thinking won’t fly. You need to make your culture more explicit, and perhaps it can be reflected in the first point when the team charter is designed. We know that culture is needed to drive the execution of strategy. Right now though, plenty of strategies and plans are being upended, revised and in some cases completely re-written. So, it makes sense that even at the level of the virtual team, a conversation be had around how the culture may need to be shifted to help them execute a little differently on their team objectives.