I was interviewed recently for a British publication about leading virtual teams. It wasn’t until the author (a friend and colleague) asked me about it that I realized I have a lot of experience in this area, and a lot of opinions. Here are some highlights of what I think is most important to keep in mind:
- Get together in person
Physically meeting early on in the process is an investment, not an expense. Teams who know each other and have worked out personality quirks come up with better solutions in less time.
- Slow down to speed up.
In all team interactions, there’s a rush to go straight to problem solving. When working virtually, it’s even more critical to take time up front to establish relationships. It profoundly increases the quality of problem solving and is way more efficient later on.
- Avoid disenfranchising members
- Members can easily feel cut off. Steps to avoid this include
- Change up time zones. I was on a video concall once that included time zones across North America, Europe and Asia. During the call, our colleague in Singapore fell asleep. Since our phones were all on silent, we couldn’t call to wake him up. So we all got to watch him snore. And saw the price he paid for always being the one who had to stay up extra late for the calls.
- Make sure you know who’s on the call. Sound obvious? I once had a client who left a conference call to go call a direct report to tell him to get on the call. The guy was actually on – just no one knew it!
- Rotate facilitation of the calls. Share the leadership, increase involvement.
- Ask for input from people who haven’t piped in. Conference calls can be an introverts dream as well as a curse. Give ample opportunity for airtime for your quiet, reflective folks.
- Figure out a good way to share data. Ensure you’re talking about the same thing at the same time.
- Work especially hard to ensure understanding: what’s been decided, who’s doing what by when, what’s the accountability structure, etc.
- Don’t overuse email!
Ever. This is true in general, but especially when working virtually. Mix up the ways of communicating and ensure there’s time for face and voice time. If you don’t know the wonders of Skype, learn.
- Build your working virtually skill.
Just like any other process, working virtually has a learning curve. Frequent check-ins on how it’s going for people and making refinements along the way is essential.
- Expect technology glitches and general imperfections.
You can mitigate risk of some things, but you can’t plan for every contingency. It’s important to see them as part of the process. Learn and move on.
(The article also has some other cool stuff in it. Go here to see the whole thing, pages 6-9.)