A virtual team is a team that is spread out over many locations, connected by the wonders of electronic communication. The hardest part of the Virtual Team is that the group rarely sees each other face to face, and in many cases, team members have never met in person. Despite an abundance of tools that make it easy to communicate remotely, human beings still collaborate best when they are in the same room.
So how do you cause people who are geographically remote to feel connected to each other and the team? It’s not easy, but there are a few strategies that can make a big difference. The common denominator with all of these steps: increased communication. Lacking the casual, random communication of a conventional office, leaders of virtual teams need to jump-start such interactions for their team members. Here’s how.
1. Help team members learn about each other:
- Hold “get to know each other” phone calls when the team is newly formed, wherein people tell some things about themselves that are non-work related, and that no one else on the team knows.
- Create a list of biographies, roles, and responsibilities, and have the bios include things beyond the workplace.
- Find ways to get everyone on the team talking and contributing in each virtual meeting, so everyone feels like they are part of something. Pick a topic and ask everyone to comment on it. Pair people up who never work together and ask to learn about each other and then introduce their partner to the others in the group. There are lots of ways to accomplish this.
2. Give frequent updates on team plans and progress. A good Virtual Team leader communicates more frequently than usual in the early life of the Virtual Team. The leader will communicate on decisions that are made, the reasons they were made, and the implications. The good leader will communicate the path on which leadership is taking the team, and why that path is the correct one. Frequent communication from team leadership has the dual benefit of strengthening members’ connections to the team and boosting leader credibility.
3. Schedule in-person meetings. There is great benefit in planning occasional face-to-face gatherings for your team. Even if it only happens once a year, an in-person team gathering will go a long way toward building bonds.
4. Use video conferencing, not just voice. Leverage the benefit of the visual connection. If people can see each other, and put faces with names and voices, that will strengthen connections among the team.
Have you had any experience with leading or being a member of a virtual team? What worked well, and what needed improvement? Tell us your story in the comments!