One of the absolute key factors in determining the success or failure of a virtual team is the level of trust between the team members, team members who may never actually meet, who may well come from different social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and who will have very different motivation for joining the team. Building and maintaining this trust is a challenge for any endeavour but keeping a few points in mind will help get things started.
Over the past decade or so many companies have added video conference facilities to their suite of communication tools. Once up and running they have then used it to replace much, or on very rare occasions all business travel whether for corporate or project reasons. The question is though, is video conference the silver bullet for virtual teams communication or just another option?
While many workplaces seem to use the terms virtual team and work share interchangeably, I feel that the two terms deserve to be used in their own contexts to describe different facets of the relationship. Virtual teams are those groups engaged at distance to complete a task while work share is the sharing of the task within the teams.
Quite some time ago I started to think about how best to help senior and generally very busy managers improve their communications abilities when running or working in virtual team environments. These people usually come from a world where they are assumed to know everything and yet never have the time to learn new skills or often even reflect on how well their current approach fits with their current role.
Most managers in senior roles today started out in a world where projects were executed with a co-located team, they learnt their communication techniques from a combination of personal experience and observation of their predecessors, all of who came from an even more traditional and generally more command and control world. As such, it is of little surprise that these current leaders struggle to manage people they can’t see, people who are often just voices on a telephone or lines on a project personnel list.
Norman F, Pick D, Dickie C (2013) Toward a better understanding of communications within virtual project teams, Australian Institute of Project Management Annual Conference, Perth 2013
Establishing the right environment for a virtual team is an important and complex undertaking. Getting the environment right can mean the difference between a barely functioning team or a truly exceptional, committed one.
Among other factors to consider when establishing your team are the reasons for doing so in the first place, whether your organisation is configured to support and optimise virtual teams and how committed your personnel are to the endeavour being successful.
Norman F, Pick D, Dickie C (2012) Geotemporally Distributed Project Teams, Australia New Zealand Academy of Management annual conference, Perth Australia