Hang on to Your Communicator Badges

Monday Management: Managing Virtual Teams for Success

Modern day business increasingly has more and more in common with Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets. How so? Business professionals might not be sporting stylish gold and silver communicator badges like Starfleet personnel (pictured on the uniforms in the image to the right), but the utilization of long distance communication devices and virtual teamwork is certainly expanding. In fact, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management reported in 2012 that 46% of organizations polled use virtual teams.

Though the Enterprise crew, Starfleet Command and other various United Federation of Planets members seem to have mastered communication across time and space, this just isn’t so for modern day virtual teams. Manager of SHRM’s survey research center, Evren Esen explained that “When virtual teams work, their productivity can be impressive, but getting them to function can be a challenge.” For the 46% of organizations with virtual teams, here is a chart of common stumbling blocks and some tips to improve strategies.

 

Tips for Virtual Teams:

Employee Team Building:

  1. Establish direction
  2. Continuously nurture leadership
  3. Clearly define roles
  4. Invite input
  5. Don’t neglect verbal recognition
  6. Consider team building programs

Virtual Team Time Zone Differences:

  1. Plan ahead for differences
  2. Be precise about date and time
  3. Document plans publicly and make them accessible
  4. Avoid calls with anyone off-shift
  5. Circulate inconveniences evenly across time zones
  6. Always take work life balance into account

Workload Distribution:

  1. Compose teams of compatible members
  2. Encourage self-discipline and accountability
  3. Managers must understand each individual’s capabilities
  4. Encourage an “all for one, one for all” mentality
  5. Define rules and share updates regularly
  6. Utilize real time video and google hangout options for regular meetings


Team Leadership:

  1. Clearly define the leadership role
  2. Consider emotional intelligence when assigning leadership
  3. Encourage a balance of leadership and management qualities
  4. Allow for innovation
  5. Provide finances and time for leaders to personally visit all team members
  6. Continue to acknowledge success and show appreciation

Integrating Cultural Norms:

  1. Invest in emotional intelligence awareness and training
  2. Encourage friendly and open communication concerning differences
  3. Encourage staff to be aware of body language meaning in different cultures
  4. Provide a list of universal “no-no” terms or motions, like eye-rolling
  5. Be aware and considerate of cultural holidays
  6. Encourage all staff to avoid cultural slang

 

Estimates from the Telework Research Network suggest telecommuting grew 61% between 2005 and 2009. The network expects the number of telecommuters will grow to nearly five million by 2016. The tips above will get teams off to the right start. The question isn’t: are virtual teams the way of the future? They question is: will virtual teams utilize available tools and advice in order to succeed? In the words of the Starship Enterprise’s Captain Picard, all that’s left to do is “Make it so.”