If you look back 20 years, very few people worked with a team that wasn’t on the same floor, much less a team spread across different buildings, states, or countries. Way back then, there were a few of us in global jobs, blazing the trail of how to work effectively with a team that was spread across the world – but we were in the minority.
Fast forward to today, where technological advances support anytime, anywhere work; and globalization is pervasive, with jobs from all levels in the spectrum being done offshore. This means that most people working today will experience being part of a physically dispersed team, whose primary interaction is virtual.
Over the many years I’ve worked with virtual teams, both in the corporate world and as a consultant, I’ve learned a couple things that go a long way towards making virtual teaming a success:
- Courage. I put this one first on purpose, because I feel its the most important. Authentic leadership is the key to establishing trust. With in-person forums, its easier because you can use non-verbal cues like facial expressions and gestures to convey your attitude, feelings and passions. In a virtual setting, you don’t have these non-verbal cues to rely on, and since 70% of communication happens through these cues, that’s a big gap to close. You’ll have to step up your game and dig deep, getting in tune with your feelings and giving voice to your emotions – which may make you feel vulnerable but will be necessary to establish authenticity and trust. Lead by example, if you’re not afraid to put yourself out there, your teammates won’t be either!
- Connection. Its really important that the members of your team connect not only to you, but also to each other. The foundation for establishing connection is to create a sense of purpose and shared goals, making sure that everyone understands how the work they do contributes to the success of the team and the organization at large. Make it a part of the conversation, don’t just assume its clear to people. Share your thoughts about aspects that are consistent across the team and those that might be unique to a particular function, country, line of business, etc. and ask them to share theirs. Encourage discussion and debate. Be open to changing your mind. Have a sense of humor.
- Consistency. Because you aren’t physically co-located, you won’t have the luxury of the chance meeting at the water-cooler for an impromptu chit-chat. The best way to enable those virtual water-cooler moments is to have a set schedule where the team frequently connects together, and, 1:1 calls where you connect with each person individually. When you have these virtual forums, draw people out and ask them what they think. Leverage the time together to discuss things as a group. And on your 1:1 calls, be an engaged listener, to really learn about each person and what motivates and interests them. What are their strengths, their challenges, their fears? All of this will be important to know as you work to establish a connection.
- Collaboration. To help instill a collaborative spirit in your team, put people together who might not normally work together on a project. For example, put people from a few different countries together to tackle a problem and make recommendations back to the group as the start of a round-table discussion. Or ask a few global and country leads to team together to build out a process, to ensure both sets of perspectives are considered in the design. Change these groupings often so people get a chance to experience first-hand the various perspectives in the team. Encourage team members to stretch their thinking and consider new ways of doing things.
And a final tip, if your budget supports it, get out there and meet the players in your team face-to-face, which will go a long way towards helping you establish that virtual bond.