Eight Steps to Manage Virtual Teams
There are some special techniques that can be used to manage these virtual teams.
- Establish team objectives. The team members need to know and understand what it is that they are doing together. If people only understand their own role and their own work, they will always just be individual contributors.
- Remind everyone they are a team. If the team members think they are all working independently, they will act independent. If they know they are part of a team working on common objectives and deliverables, they will tend to feel better about their work and be more active in their collaboration with other team members.
- Obtain the right technology. The technology is there to support virtual teams – there is really no reason to be without it. This includes fast access to the Internet, audio conferencing, videocams, collaborative software, shared directories, etc.
- Look for opportunities to “socialize.” Team members located together have opportunities to socialize throughout the day. Virtual teams don’t usually have this same opportunity to interact with each other, so it is more important for the project manager to look for ways they can bond. This might include getting everyone together one time in a face-to-face setting – perhaps a Project Kickoff meeting.
- Be sensitive to cultural difference. It is possible that your virtual team all thinks and acts the same way. However, more and more virtual teams consist of people from multiple countries and multiple cultures. If you are the project manager on this type of team, make sure you have some appreciation for the differences in how people work and how they behave.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. The project manager needs to be extra proactive in his communication to make sure everyone understands what is expected. People can start to feel isolated if they do not receive regular communication. It is hard enough to keep everyone informed on a “regular” project. The communication lines on a virtual team must be opened up especially wide. The project manager can provide this steady stream of communication.
- Adjust and compromise on time differences. The project manager needs to recognize that what is convenient for the project manager is not always convenient to the team members. For instance, if you are a manager in a global company it may not be practical to start all project meetings at 9:00 am. That may be convenient to the manager but it can result in resentment from people in other global locations that need to stay very late for these meetings.
- Give people shorter assignments. This is not the time to give people long assignments and hope that they are completed by the deadline. Instead of assigning a six-week activity, for instance, the project manager should assign the work in three two-week activities. In the former case, you would not know for sure if the work was done for six weeks. In the later case, you can tell every two weeks if the work is on track.
These techniques will help your virtual teams be as successful as your co-located teams.