Building a high productivity virtual team is a complex thing to do.
In reality, any individual or organisation can establish a virtual team, all that is needed is to engage with someone or a group working on the same task as you but located elsewhere. Building a high productivity virtual team however is a very different endeavor, it requires planning, foresight, integration, training and ongoing support from the top down and the bottom up.
Steps To Build A High Productivity Virtual Team
There are a few steps to consider when planning and building a high productivity virtual team which we have outlined below:
- Plan your work – Its can sometimes feel cliche, but planning the work you intend to undertake, how, where and why it will be done is the first step in building a high productivity virtual team. If you don’t really know why you are using a virtual team you will always struggle to get the best from it. Equally, if the team members don’t really know why they are there, they will not be as focussed on their work and, productivity will suffer – So, spend the time planning your work, and do the planning before the work starts.
- Engage the best people you can – Again, this is a seemingly obvious comment, but it is surprising how often a virtual team will simply use whoever is available, whether they have the right skills and aptitude to work in a virtual team environment or not. Highly productive virtual teams will comprise personnel who are highly effective communicators and collaborators, as well as being technically proficient at their assigned task, you need to seek these people out in your business and actively engage them in your virtual teams.
- Ensure quality leadership – The leadership of both the virtual team its self and the organisation overall need to be united in supporting the efforts of their workforce, whether they are in a virtual team or co-located team environment. Leadership of virtual teams is a specialist skill that is not possessed by all, to build high productivity virtual teams you need highly skilled leaders of virtual organisations, leaders who can communicate and lead across the boundaries of time, distance and culture.
- Provide suitable training – Where skills and knowledge gaps exist, typically in areas such as communications and cross cultural working, it is vitally important that training is provided for those that need it. This can take the form of classroom training, one on one training, mentoring or coaching, dependant on the needs and role of the individuals involved. Building and releasing productivity in your virtual teams requires the team members to possess all of the core skills, not just the technical ones.
- Deliver ongoing effective support – One off training is rarely enough when it comes to virtual team interaction. As circumstances change and projects move from phase to phase, personnel will leave and join the virtual team. Each change will impact the communication and trust dynamic and, as such, adjustments will be needed to the structure and character of the team. These changes require support from an organisational level, to ensure the virtual team continues to be given access to the right skills and personnel to maintain its productivity.
- Deal with conflict quickly – Every business and team will experience conflict from time to time. Some conflict is productive and valuable, resulting from disagreements over tasks and leading to a better overall outcome, but some conflict is negative and damaging, leading to a loss of productivity, fractures to relationships and an erosion of trust. It is important in a virtual team environment that the leadership of both the team and the organisation remain vigilant to damaging conflict, and move to resolve things quickly and efficiently in the interests of the overall team.
- Appropriately reward success – Success in all of its forms should be celebrated. In a virtual team environment, however, it is important that the celebrations are fair, equitable and sensitive to the cultural and societal norms of the personnel in each location. For some members of a virtual team, a personal reward may be appropriate, for others it is recognition of the team or even the extended organisation that will be most effective. Getting the reward structure right will help with ongoing productivity in both current and future virtual teams.
- Avoid a blame culture – When things go wrong it can be easy to lash out and blame others for problems. In a virtual environment, this often means blaming unseen personnel in “the other” office. When problems do occur, seek to understand the causes of the problem, both technical and relational, and then put fixes in place to ensure the problem is less likely to occur again. Avoid apportioning any blame to collective groups, or even to individuals, this will only damage relationships and lead to reduced productivity in the long term.
Building and maintaining high productivity virtual teams is a task which will continue for the entire time you are running virtual teams in your business, but, getting it right can lead to incredibly effective outcomes. You need to work diligently to ensure your team gets the best support it can to be the best it can.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences with building highly productive virtual teams or have you experienced issues in a team you have been a part of 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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