The Internet has shrunk the world in ways thought impossible a generation ago, and employers have come to realize that they don’t need teams of people on-site in cubicles. Telecommuting, remote teams come with challenges, though, especially when it comes to getting around cultural, technological and distance. Too often, virtual teaming as seen as a purely technological challenge, forgetting the other fundamentals involved in creating a great team. These two elements – technology and team building – are tightly interwoven, with neither aspect in a vacuum. This full context is critical to setting up and managing any effective virtual work group.
Cultural differences, distance and reliance on technology all complicate virtual teams in ways that on-site teams aren’t faced with. Just by its nature, this environment puts more dependency on certain aspects of team dynamics. Without face-to-face interaction and feedback, trust and communication can become problematic. That high level of trust is crucial in the virtual world as well as the on-site world, heading off problems with miscommunication, ambiguity or varying levels of commitment.
Our approach is to build a strong foundation for effective teamwork within the context of the virtual world. We zero in on activities that simulate this environment, challenging the team to address common problems before they can develop. We focus on preparation and giving teams the tools they need for strong, effective communication, common goals, basic principles and a common culture and history to build on. Most importantly, we strive for a better understanding of all the players involved in the group – it’s an approach that helps build effective teams on a remote, virtual basis.
- Building trust: Trust is the key to making any team work, virtual or on-site. We use various activities to enhance trust within the group. This is even more important and challenging in a virtual environment.
- Creating a common, shared vision: While this may be often overlooked, ensuring clarity and alignment between individual goals and the team’s shared goal can prevent many conflicts later on.
- Developing an effective communication plan: Your team needs a model and plan for how and when they will communicate. It’s necessary to discuss frequency, content and mode as well as outcomes and personal responsibilities.
- Awareness of individual strengths and differences: The cultural diversity of virtual teams can be a huge advantage and a great challenge at the same time. Groups can explore ways of capitalizing on their differences and dealing with their frustrations.
- Managing team related problems: Activities are designed to make the most of the face-to-face time teams spend together. They can experience teamwork in terms of internal team dynamics, evaluating success, and planning on how to move forward as an effective team.
- Coping with ambiguity and uncertainty: Activities are planned to mimic specific situations, giving participants a chance to explore how they can overcome the frustrations that go along with technology, distance and culture.