Building and operating effective virtual teams is as much an art as it is a science. Many organisations rely more on luck than good planning when embarking on a virtual team project, then are as shocked by the results as everyone else.
After decades helping virtual teams, here are four of the top ways your virtual teams may be failing (and some ways to fix things!)
The Top 4 Ways Your Virtual Team May Be Failing…
1 – Insufficient Planning – Planning for your virtual team work is as critical as any other planning in a business. Sadly though, we regularly find companies who have planned everything else in their project, then just jumped in to their virtual team and hoped for the best.
Without planning your virtual team, you risk failure on so many levels; sending the work to the wrong location, having the wrong systems and processes to support your project, having an immature leadership and management model that is not able to support the undertaking or having a business that does not have the required infrastructure to facilitate communications and sharing of materials needed by virtual teams.
Any one of these factors can be a project killer on its own yet many organisations have multiples, leading to massive risks, huge distractions for business and project leaders and a potentially poor project outcome.
Remember the old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” this applies as much to communications and team structures as any other part of a project.
2 – Wrong Leadership – This is not something many managers want to hear, but often your virtual team may be failing because of the wrong leadership. It may be that your project manager is unsuited or unprepared to lead a virtual team, it may be that your business leadership does not understand the demands of supporting a successful virtual team structure, but again, it is a common reason many virtual teams are failing.
Virtual teams are a relatively new organisational structure, having only been on the business landscape for around 20 years and only really heavily adopted in the past 10 years. Consequently there is still not a collective body of knowledge around what a leader of such a structure need to know and do to be effective.
Helping your business leaders understand the different requirements of running a business using virtual teams will make your organisation stronger and reduce the risk of your virtual teams failing. Similarly, looking for the required skills in your project managers and their key staff required to build and run strong and effective virtual teams will ensure their projects avoid failing.
Many of the general skills to run a business or lead a project are completely transferable to virtual teams, but as we discussed in a number of earlier articles, there are many additional attributes that are also necessary to stop your virtual team failing.
3 – Wrong Personnel – Having the right personnel on any project is critical to its success, this applies to virtual teams as much as it does to co-located ones. However, similar to the issues associated with leadership, having the wrong personnel on your virtual team can lead to it failing to deliver.
In a typical co-located team communication skills are necessary but often not essential, personnel will see one another around the office and keep in touch on the project almost through osmosis. In a virtual environment however, the need to be an effective communicator is critical, personnel at all levels need to feel confident to reach out to colleagues, to ask questions and to give concise and reliable answers.
Similarly, the ability to build and maintain trust is critical to maintaining an open and productive environment.
If your personnel don’t aren’t good communicators or are unable to build and maintain a trusting relationship with their virtual colleagues you are on the way to failing. You need to step in and help them build these skills, support them as they become effective communicators and work with them as they build trust with their virtual colleagues. If they are unwilling, then you need to find alternate roles for them, roles where they are not at the front line of communicating with their virtual colleagues, but you must not leave them in roles where their underdeveloped communication skills will put your project at risk.
4 – No Support – This risk of a virtual team failing is, sadly, one we see all too often. A business will dive into a virtual team project, throw a team together to deliver the work then leave them too it with no support. Leaving your teams to deliver their projects is generally something that project managers crave, but when they have to negotiate corporate boundaries to get work done in other locations, the lack of support can kill projects.
Virtual teams need an adequate level of corporate and potentially board level support to allow them to get the best from the whole business for the benefit of the whole business. This whole business need is the thing that gets overlooked. If a virtual team is failing it effects more than one office and potentially more than one regional bottom line, along with the overall business bottom line.
Protecting and enhancing the bottom line is the job of the senior leaders of a business, yet often they are too distracted with day to day challenges to see where the real trouble is. They leave the project team to fend for themselves in an environment they may not understand. Trying to work across corporate, geographic, cultural and technical boundaries without adequate support from the very organisation that put them there in the first place.
There Is A Solution To Failing Virtual Teams
There is a solution to failing and unpredictable virtual teams;
- You need to plan not just for the technical sides of your projects but also for the human side,
- You need to ensure your leadership team understands the challenges of operating virtually, and if they don’t, find them good training and support,
- You need to ensure your personnel at the front line of communicating across these virtual team boundaries have the right skills, experience, personalities and tools to be the best they can be, if they don’t provide them the best training you can and if they still don’t meet your needs find someone else who does.
- And, you need to support your virtual teams as they work to deliver your projects in this new and challenging business model.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences with failing virtual teams and ways you have seen them turned around you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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