Are you a member of a virtual team? Many people are. To find out, consider this definition adapted from Wikipedia and see if you qualify:
~ A virtual team is one that is not located in any one physical space. Rather, several workplaces are technologically connected (via telephones, email, and internet) without regard to time zones or geographic boundaries. People are thus able to interact and work with one another regardless of where they are located in the world. A virtual workplace decreases unnecessary costs (such as travel) by integrating technology, people, and projects.
Does that sound like you and your workplace? These days, technological innovations such as mobile devices, instant text messaging, online chatting, wi fi hot spots and more, have made it far easier to work remotely than ever before. But virtual workplaces bring new challenges that managers and employees need to face, in particular challenges in teamwork and leadership.
Isn’t technology the answer, you ask? Virtual workplace expert Jessica Lipnack of NetAge Consultants has warned for many years that technology is NOT the answer. While it is incredibly useful, technology will not solve the age old problems that bedevil teams.
Having worked in virtual teams for a long time, I believe the answer is team mindfulness. In Buddhist thought, mindfulness has many shades of meaning. In the case of virtual teams, I would describe team mindfulness as vigilant attention to what is happening, clear comprehension of underlying team dynamics, and wise reflection on what is needed.
So, here are ten tips to increase your team mindfulness in a fast-moving technological age.
1. Mission – What is the mission of the team? Get very focused on your team’s goal. One of the keys to success is having a very specific goal that everyone can center on. The more specific, the better. A highly specific goal can be managed and measured.
2. Engagement - How do you create a high level of commitment to the work? As a team leader, you can create excitement by helping the others see that their work counts. For instance, make sure the voice of the customer is heard in the group’s work.
3. Freedom - Empower the team. Don’t constrain and control. Do not micro-manage. Do provide direction, guidance, encouragement, and support.
4. Diversity – Teams, by definition, bring diversity of talents, of training, of experience, of practical wisdom. If this rich diversity can be harnessed, imagine the outputs the team might achieve! Virtual teams have to work hard to ensure that the diverse viewpoints of all on the team are heard and recognized.
5. Leadership - A team needs leadership to be successful. Leadership energizes a team. Leadership provides direction and guidance which keeps a team on track, and moving forward. Though one person may be designated as leader, keep in mind that leadership can come from anywhere. Distributed leadership in a virtual team is critical for organizing the efforts of all so that a final product can be delivered on time.
6. Organization – The team must develop a structure for the work they have to accomplish. They can divide into sub-teams to tackle each part of the project. The team must develop a schedule of deliverables so that all the parts coalesce at the right time. Also take time to establish operating norms which give the team groundrules for accountability.
7. Communication - Communicate constantly. Having a constant flow of information and ideas is critical to your virtual success. Don’t let the flow dry up. Use technology to link up. Establish multiple ways to connect (for example: email, skype, twitter, a wiki, and a document sharing site) where all team members can write, edit, and upload project documents.
8. Trust - It’s tough building trust in a face-to-face team. So imagine how challenging it is with a virtual team that may be spread across time, space, and boundaries of organizations and cultures! Key to building trust is building relationships. Build cohesion by socializing. Get to know each other as human beings. Connect on linkedin. Create a facebook page, for example, where you can post pictures, share information such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holiday celebrations.
9. Collaborate. The core issue in any team is: Can we collaborate? This is the essence of the business case for having a team in the first place. Teams must beware of pitfalls that can get in their way. They must also schedule in time for team building activities that will continuously strengthen the team spirit.
10. Culture - Does your virtual team span some cultural borders? Do you have, for instance, people on your team from different countries? If so, build cross-cultural bridges. Make a concerted effort to learn as much as you can about one another’s cultures. There may be differences that, unless uncovered and understood, may make a crucial difference in whether you will achieve success as a team.
Jessica Lipnack said this about the challenge facing people in today’s virtual workplace:
“In the 21st century, most people work with others who are more than 50 feet away from them. Data indicate that when people are more than 50 feet apart, their likelihood of collaborating more than once a week is less than 10%. So, as people work in teams, crossing space, time, and organizational boundaries, they must master the principles of virtual work.”
Working in a virtual environment can work, if you think it through and work on it. The ingredients that you used in the old days, when everyone worked in one location, are still relevant. Only now, you have to take them to a new level of awareness encompassing both technology and team mindfulness.
You can do it.