Tom Talks

Building a Winning Business — Leadership Blog — Tom Salonek

Tom Talks - Building a Winning Business  —  Leadership Blog  —  Tom Salonek

Virtual Team Virtues (Post 3 of 5)

Virtual-Team-Best-PracticesIf you’ve been following this series on virtual teams, you know I’ve been sharing highlights from the Harvard Business Review article (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right” by consultant and business author Keith Ferrazzi. Today I’m sharing his thoughts and mine on the topic of virtual team leadership.

Fostering trust is the first task of any leader, but this is especially crucial for virtual team leaders. Trust and empathy is key according to Ferrazzi and he suggests strategies like encouraging team members to share appropriate background information to help foster it.

He also recommends encouraging open dialogue, which is something we champion with our virtual work teams. Intertech team members use different tools for communication such as #Slack, Yammer, instant messaging, and email to communicate throughout the day and with other stakeholders who may not be a part of the daily standup.

Clarifying goals and guidelines also help to establish a common purpose or vision. Ferrazzi counsels explaining to everyone “why you are coming together and what benefits will result, and then keep reiterating the message.”

With software development teams using Agile, it’s a little different because we are not driven by a formal project plan.  As a team we collectively agree what will be delivered in the next sprint/iteration (usually these are every 2-4 weeks) so it is known by all what must be done and by when. We also encourage clients to add items or features. When we plan the next sprint/iteration the client can choose what should be the focus or priority for the next one.

This Agile approach allows the team to stay nimble and focus on delivering the highest value items, while delaying lower value items until later.  This is quite different from a traditional Waterfall methodology where everything is defined and planned upfront, which is a much more rigid process that makes introducing change more challenging and frustrating for everyone. We use Agile because virtual teams – by their very nature — should be flexible and adaptable!

My next post will explore the “right touchpoints” for effective virtual teams.

Virtual Team Virtues (Post 2 of 5)

Virtual-Teams-Using-Agile-DevelopmentThe use of virtual teams is a popular and growing workplace trend. As consultant and author Keith Ferrazzi describes in the Harvard Business Review (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right,” following best practices around four key areas greatly increases the effectiveness of virtual teams. He identifies the first key area as having the right team.

What makes a great virtual team? Ferrazzi notes that all successful virtual team players share some characteristics: good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to work independently and the resilience to recover from the snafus that inevitably arise. He recommends that leaders should conduct behavioral interviews and personality tests to screen for these qualities. This is something we have done for years at Intertech and I highly recommend it. While the evaluations are fairly expensive, they’re “priceless” when compared to the cost of a bad hire.

Ferrazzi also makes an interesting observation about the size of virtual teams. He suggests that the most effective virtual teams are small (fewer than 10 people). A study by OnPoint Consulting found the worst performing virtual teams had 13 members or more. Apparently, as the team size increases something called “social loafing” kicks in as individuals begin to feel less responsibility for output.

The other aspect of getting a virtual team right has to do with communication. Specifically, how roles are clarified and communicated. Ferrazzi recommends forming sub teams when projects require the efforts of multiple people from various departments. Intertech typically identifies one project leader, who serves as the main point of contact with everyone else on the team.

Because we use agile methodology, the client’s team members also are part of our “daily standup,” which is a brief call where everyone shares what they did yesterday, what they will be doing today, and any challenges they are facing.  This provides daily updates on everyone’s tasks and allows team members in different locations to understand what everyone is doing and how they may be able to help.

At the end of each sprint we do a demo of what was completed in the last one. This is a “retrospective” to discuss what did or didn’t go well and it is how we decide, as a team, what to keep and what to improve. So the whole team gets better with each sprint/iteration by fine-tuning the process in planned steps along the way.

Next time I’ll share Ferrazzi’s thoughts, and my own, on how the right leadership can increase the odds of virtual team success.

Virtual Team Virtues (Post 1 of 5)

Virtual-Teams“A 2005 Deloitte study of IT projects outsourced to virtual work groups found that 66 percent failed to satisfy the clients’ requirements,” reports Keith Ferrazzi in the Harvard Business Review (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right.”

Ferrazzi, a principal with the California-based business consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight and author of Never Eat Alone, also cites a 2009 study of 80 global software teams that found that “well managed dispersed teams can actually outperform those that share office space,” as well as an Aon Consulting report that noted “using virtual teams can improve employee productivity, with some organizations seeing gains of up to 43 percent.”

I’m a strong advocate of virtual work groups, and believe the discrepancy behind these vastly different study results can be traced to those two little words “well managed.” Getting it right when working remotely requires strong management and other elements—the right team, the right leadership, the right touchpoints and the right technology—which Ferrazzi’s HBR article details. I will share the highlights with you in my next four posts.

Today, though, I would like to touch on the myriad customer and employee advantages of virtual teams, which we use extensively. When Intertech IT consultants work remotely (typically from their homes), customers benefit from:

  • Access to talent and skill sets that may not be currently available in their market, particularly if the customer is located in rural locations.
  • A deep bench. While the client may be hiring a specific team, a firm like Intertech has many other resources at its disposal beyond a specific team. Our consultants can (and do) bounce ideas off each other throughout our firm, relying on the same communications technology that tethers them to clients, without any added cost for customers.
  • Demonstration of best practices. It’s common that our clients don’t have strong development or agile practices. Using one of our virtual teams gives them an infusion of best practices that may be difficult to create locally on the client site.  We know this is powerful because clients, after experiencing how we deliver projects remotely, have adopted our processes or asked that we help them implement those processes internally.
  • Free technology and “workspaces.” Computers, software, workstations all represent significant costs. A typical professional laptop costs $2,000 and potentially $1,000’s in software cost.  When we work remotely, those costs don’t exist for customers.
  • Community goodwill. Some of our clients are located in remote areas with limited local IT resources. Due to their remote locations it’s hard to recruit employees, which can result in “talent poaching” from the few local businesses that may employ IT professionals. This can cause a fair amount of embarrassment, uncomfortable moments or even hostility in small towns where people know each other and frequently are in similar social or civic circles.

For employees, the benefits are simple and enormous: working remotely gives them the ability to manage their work and personal lives more flexibly. The advantages of a flexible work life should not be minimized, especially when your workforce includes a large percentage of millennials.

In case you’ve been sleeping, you probably already know that millennials soon will outnumber baby boomers in the United States and are on the cusp of representing the majority of the workforce. As was noted by Sarah Sladek, CEO and founder of XYZ University and author of the book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, “Organizations are doomed to fail if they cling to old-guard ideas that motivated baby boomers.”

Clinging to the notion that employees must be located in an office where they can be observed like babies in a maternity ward is as antiquated as the tradition of proud fathers puffing cigars in the hospital waiting room. Remote or virtual work teams are not the future, they are the present, and my next post will share Ferrazzi’s thoughts—and my own—on the importance of having the right people in place for an effective virtual team.

My Upcoming Talk at Breakfast with Values Champions

One-DreamOn April 21st, I’ve been asked to speak at the “Breakfast with Values Champions.”

Held at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, it’s “a learning community for forwardthinking leaders and organizations interested in expanding their capacity to  “be who they say they are.” You can expect to engage with other leaders committed to aligning their values and purpose with all areas of how they do business: developing your executive team, strategy that is broadly owned, leading change, employee engagement, measures and metrics, engagement, onboarding and more.

Values Champions includes distinguished leaders of Fortune 500 companies, authentic non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs committed to building organizations that value people as much as profit. They will share how they align values with policies and make tough decisions while staying true to their stated mission, vision and organizational values. ”

To learn more or register, go to:  https://valuesbreakfast.eventbrite.com