Author: Gaia Grant
Contemporary teams tend to be highly diverse. Virtual teams, many of which are cross-cultural and become 'silo-minded' due to their physical isolation, require extra cohesion for success. Stresses such as time pressures, geographical and cultural barriers, communication, and increasing organisational expectations are just some of the challenges that individuals and groups face on a daily basis. The greater the anticipated stress, the more group members need to develop strategies to ensure they are prepared to cope. By recognizing these stresses, groups can pull together through collaboration.
We have been working with diverse cross-cultural and virtual teams for over 15 years and see the same issues come up regularly. It should be a relief to know that this is often systemic of the situation and not necessarily the individuals. But it is also concerning to know that over 50% of virtual teams will fail to meet their objective.
Sometimes the simplest issues become the most challenging for virtual teams, so it is important to decide on some basic strategies to ensure communication is consistent and clear. Working through the following series of questions should help to identify the most appropriate approaches to dealing with the issue introduced above:
• How can we establish a common vision?
This can be through starting with a vision/mission/values workshop session to check there is alignment.
• How can we set reasonable objectives and deadlines?
By discussing and gaining consensus on what deadlines and objectives are considered reasonable by all.
• How do we keep everyone up to date on issues and progress?
Eg with regular email updates, regular conference calls, a shared task management system.
• How can we ensure each person is participating in the process of arriving at decisions?
Ensure you ask for each person’s input and acknowledge and value their contributions.
• What needs to be communicated?
Usually task updates need to be communicated, but regular ‘emotional’ or ‘morale’ check-ins will also be important.
• What is the best media for communication (e-mail, phone, etc.)? When does each form of media need to be used.
For minor details emails might be fine, but for more important or potentially emotional issues / points the more personal the method the better – eg a phone call will be better than email, and a video call will be better than voice call.
• How can we maintain friendly social interaction when this cannot be done face-to-face?
Opportunities to share personal information, photos, stories etc will be important here.
• How can we handle conflict when it is not merely at the level professional disagreements?
This can be done by appointing a mediator who can help to talk through specific situations and provide an objective perspective.
Once these potential issues are addressed, it is then possible to develop a code of conduct that sets a clear framework for behaviour. Some of the key areas can include:
Full consultation before committing other team members
A respect for the right of others to re-negotiate
A clear line between personal or professional interests
Recording work and relevant measures honestly
Treating others as professionals
Being a role model for new members
Confronting any breach of this Code of Conduct .
All the best with guiding your virtual team towards success!