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VOL. 126 | NO. 41 | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Susan Drake

Finding Virtual Team Triumphs


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One of the funniest things that ever happened in our office is that once (before smart phones) when the power went out, two of our younger team members were stymied about how to get a phone number because their computers were down.

When our manager suggested a phone book, they looked amazed.

I’m about to spout what amounts to heresy: In the communications realm, research shows that the phone is 10 times more effective than e-mail and face-to-face communication is 10 times more effective than phone. Ah, just reminiscing…

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s talk about virtual teams, because in today’s world, we can’t always work in the same place and we can’t always pick up the phone when someone’s in a time zone where day is night.

Virtual teams are here to stay and they have many virtues, not the least of which is convenience.

In fact, in a virtual team survey report, 80 percent of respondents say they work virtually, and 60 percent say they’re very successful.

On the flip side, working virtually has challenges as well: A few obstacles include 94 percent of people surveyed saying it’s tough to read non-verbal cues, 85 percent citing lack of collegiality and 81 percent saying it’s hard to build rapport and trust.

Virtual teams can be oh-so-lonely places unless you address these isolating factors. So what can we do to combine the personal advantages of phone and face to face with the convenience of virtual work?

Melissa Lamson, cultural transformation expert and head of Lamson Consulting, who works globally, says that there are some steps that can be taken to make virtual teams more personally fulfilling.

Some of her suggestions include:

Posting photos of members; holding video chats; creating a small budget to get people together; asking for feedback; asking open questions; allowing time for discussion; encouraging cheerleading for the team; and having more side meetings, follow-ups and calls in between.

The key, of course, is awareness, and the burden is on the team leader – a different kind of leader than someone in charge of a same-location group.

Just imagine what it’s like when 45 percent of the people on the team have never seen the other people they work with.

The effective team leader must be keenly aware of the team members’ needs and help them develop the trust that’s essential in every team. Trust is based on individuals and the relationships they establish with each other.

As a team leader, you can’t consider your team members as a generic group of clones. They have different styles and personalities, and your job is to cultivate appreciation for those distinctive qualities. People have feelings, even if you can’t see them, and feelings must be respected.

Above all, consider that trust puts the virtue in virtual.

Susan Drake is the president of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at susand@spellbindersinc.com.

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