I often come across organisations that choose to skip the set up phase of their project, diving straight into virtual team execution without deciding if it is right for their organisation and their project. These same companies then wonder why they get into problems during execution. Typically the problems are things they have never encountered before and often they leave the organisation emotionally and corporately scared from the experience.
I have heard comments like “They (the other office) are all liars“, “They just don’t get what we need“, “Their quality is all wrong” and similar. Notice the ongoing pattern of blaming “them” here… The result of this is that the individuals and the organisations decide that it is all too difficult and they will revert to single office execution with all of the issues that entails. All of this in the belief that they at least understand these local issues.
The sort of comments I have quoted above, and they are all actual comments though paraphrased here, reflect a fundamental lack of planning and understanding of what is actually needed to make virtual teams work. Human nature being what it is, we tend to look externally for a place to assign blame when problems occur – it is almost always “someone else” fault, rarely our own. But it does not have to be this bad, with some real planning, identifying and drawing on the right experience, and having the patience to learn on the run, learn from your own experiences and those of others, virtual teams execution can be a productive, fruitful and, dare I say it, even an enjoyable experience.
Deciding If A Virtual Team Is Right For Your Project
To start to get virtual team execution right, you first need to go back to basics and deal with some fundamental, foundational project management and leadership issues such as;
- Why am I using a virtual team?
- Is my organisation set up to get the best from its virtual teams?
- Does my organisation support virtual teams?
- Do my personnel believe in virtual teams?
Why am I using a virtual team? – This fundamental question must have a clear and sensible answer in the context of your project. Typical answers would be; to access skills not readily available elsewhere, to accelerate execution of the project, to maintain better utilisation across the business and to reduce execution costs through accessing low cost centres. All of these are valid reasons and, with the answers in place, its easier to look to the other questions.
Is my organisation set up to get the best from its virtual teams? – Many organisations new to virtual teams are simply not configured to get the best out of them. They may have a financial reward system that recognises profit and loss centres, rewarding local execution. They may have IT networks that are hard to share work over, and they may have procedures and practices that are not culturally sensitive or sensible and therefore are difficult to transfer between locations. These issues must be identified and either removed, modified or accepted and a work around put in place for virtual team execution to have a chance of success.
Does my organisation support virtual teams? – A supportive organisation will actively encourage and make adjustments where necessary to see virtual teams succeed, after all, it is the success of the business that is at stake. They will, on occasion, even make local sacrifices for the greater good of the organisation, in the belief that they succeed together regardless of some local pain. But, this is not always the case, if the organisation is not supportive of virtual teams, and if you are unable to change this situation, it may well be best to stick to whatever delivery structure the organisation does support and hope for the best.
Do my personnel believe in virtual teams? – The personnel engaged in virtual team execution for a project must believe in it, believe that it is the way to success for their project, and possibly beyond that, to the success of their own futures. If that fundamental belief is there, they will be accepting of the differences in approach, technique, language, quality etc. that come with virtual teams. If they are not, then comments such as those above will become all too common, and the project will quickly find its self in trouble.
What If The Answer Is No?
If you are unable to positively answer any or all of these and other questions about your company and your team, you need to seriously consider your approach and potentially rethink things. But, if you can answer them positively and honestly, and believe that it is still right for you, then you are at least on the right track.
Share your experiences
Obviously, the above are just a few among a long list of factors to be considered when establishing a virtual team for your project, I would welcome any comments from practitioners as to what they have experienced and am happy to help with any questions anyone may have.
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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