Creating effective Virtual Teams

Keeping everyone motivated, by Paul West

Considerations for a virtual team

  • Are you suddenly the leader of a virtual, remote working team?
  • Are you rapidly adjusting to a new environment managing your teams from home?
  • Have you had to adjust how you lead and ensure the wellbeing of your staff in this new working from home environment?

Your organisation needs to continue delivering a quality service to your customers but you’re now in a wholly new situation, attempting to rapidly transition to new ways of working.

Virtual (Remote) Teams are just like any other team. There must be trust, regular and clear communication, agreed behaviours, norms and principles of the team, freedom to be involved and be heard and collective accountability to the outcomes.

They do, however, come with their own unique challenges. Academic studies conducted in the last 10 years into virtual working have found that:

  • people struggled to use technology effectively to convey information
  • it takes virtual teams more time to make decisions
  • maintaining high team spirit and a sense of belonging can be difficult

The thinking of top thinkers

Our approach to creating high performing and effective teams, be it virtual or not, is built on a combination of our own experience and learnings, and from adopting the work of leading organisational thinkers whose experience and knowledge we respect.

We regularly reuse and adapt Patrick Lencioni’s thinking, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and apply his advice in our own special 4OC way. We also reuse much of the latest research in Group Dynamics, Complexity and Flock Theory and evidence from across the globe taken from the teams that are recognised high performers.

The research conducted by James Kerr and reflected in his book ‘Legacy: 15 lessons in Leadership’ in particular, is a great insight into how high performing teams are formed and maintained – in this case the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team.

Top tips for a top team

Some of the standard principles that we apply in creating effective, high performing virtual teams include:

Set a clear purpose and define outcomesJust like in every team. Having clarity of why the team exists, what it is here to do and how it is going to achieve the outcomes is of vital importance 

Define and co-create team principles that enable good behaviours – Agree the principles that allow you to be successful as a team; principles that define the behaviours and create the environment where trust and challenge exist, and you can be collectively successful. Agree a set of meeting principles that get everyone’s voice into the virtual room (and keep it there). The meeting owner needs to make sure those principles are lived in each meeting 

Create dedicated time to talk about non-work things – Relationships and understanding of each other are important. When not working in the same space, it’s hard to chat and develop an understanding of the other team members’ perspectives on life. Set aside time to catch up on the phone and discuss what’s happening in each other’s life’s – see the world from their street corner.

Use virtual coffee breaks for check-ins and set-up a dedicated regular check-in meeting that people talk about how they are doing – not how the work is going. Consider using random generators to match people up who wouldn’t naturally work together to ensure they talk and connect

Set up or adjust appropriate digital tools to share, collaborate and connect –

  1. Use technology that allows everyone to participate fully and collaborate, irrespective of organisation
  2. Use the best tool to achieve the outcome: Teams, SharePoint, Digital Whiteboards, Slack, Google Hangouts
  3. Use the same technology across the organisation – minimise the time taken to switch between virtual teams and different pieces of work
  4. Use social media tools to set-up chats and connect outside of the team task

Stay visible – Use technology to let people know your whereabouts and what you are working on. Share calendar access with the team, use status tools to show what’s going on. Add a photo of you to your digital account, allow people to see you even when they aren’t in the room with you – research shows that having a picture of a colleague during calls or virtual working increases your empathy towards them 

Lastly – keep having fun!

Practical Considerations

We help our clients and leaders rapidly assess where they and their teams are, to design new (interim) ways of working, safely implement those new processes and systems – especially digital and IT capability to allow teams to collaborate and stay connected, and most importantly ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of the team.

If you’d like to speak to Paul about some of his ideas on setting up Virtual Team, his version of the haka or the pitfalls of taking care of a lamb while working from home, send us a note and he’ll get right back to you.