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If 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. So far we’ve examined the importance of having the right team, sound leadership and the right touchpoints.
What’s left? Technology of course. Without the right technology virtual teams simply do not work. Or, as author Ferrazzi so eloquently puts it: “In our experience, even those with top-notch virtual teams—those with the most talented workers, the finest leadership and frequent touchpoints—can be felled by poor technology.”
Among the components virtual teams should use:
- Conference calling—“Look for systems that don’t require access codes but do record automatically or with a single click and facilitate or automate transcription. . . Also consider one-on-one and group videoconferencing, since visual cues help establish empathy and trust.” At Intertech, we use UberConference.
- Direct calling and text messaging—Nothing beats picking up a phone and talking directly with someone on the team. Texting comes in second. We like the Microsoft tool Lync. Not only does it allow us to indicate when we’re “in” the office (versus on a break), but it facilitates “conversations” over the web, including voice and text, and allows people to see each others’ desktops, which makes it easy for two virtual team mates to work together in real time on a particular issue.
- Discussion forums or virtual rooms—At Intertech, Slack allows all team members to share ideas, files, and other artifacts… in a searchable repository. According to Ferrazzi, “scholars call this type of collaboration ‘messy talk’ and say it’s critical for completing complex projects.”
At the end of the day, virtual teams can save time, reduce hassles and bring valuable intellectual resources to regions where they may be sparse. Following the strategies I’ve described in this series on virtual team can do a long way toward making virtual teams highly successful.
Last time I shared the importance of leadership for virtual teams. This post will focus on when virtual teams should come together, based on our experience at Intertech and the recommendations of consultant and business author Keith Ferrazzi in his Harvard Business Review article (12/14) article, “Getting Virtual Teams Right.”
Getting the whole team together – in person – when a project kicks off always is a good idea. When logistics do not allow everyone to be in the same room, video “will go a long way toward introducing teammates, setting expectations for trust and candor, and clarifying team goals and behavioral guidelines,” notes Ferrazzi.
It’s not uncommon for new people to join a virtual team sometime during the project lifecycle. I agree with Ferrazzi that an in-person welcome is ideal when on-boarding a new project member. He also recommends “pairing new comers with a mentor who can answer questions quickly but personally—the equivalent of a friendly colleague with an office around the corner.”
Intertech consultants frequently transfer knowledge to our clients’ in-house IT staff, particularly when we’re introducing technology that may be new. Partnering closely with team members from the “client side” is a crucial part of how we work and clients tell us it is one of the top reasons they like working with us. We understand our role is not to come in and muscle out the onsite team. Staying connected in person and through technology (more about that in my next post) is crucial to making our virtual team partnerships thrive.
Milestones are another great reason to get together in person when possible. Notes Ferrazzi, “In the absence of visual cues and body language, misunderstandings often arise, especially on larger teams. Team members begin to feel disconnected and less engaged, and their contributions to the team decline.”
Getting people together, especially when there’s a reason to celebrate, can overcome the dangers of distance that can negatively impact trust, innovation, satisfaction and performance. This is a big reason why we host quarterly dinner meetings for all Intertech consultants, as well as Friday barbecue lunches in the summer, an annual holiday and summer party, and other fun gatherings throughout the year. Many of our consultants work from home or onsite at customer locations. Our in-person gatherings are a critical part of maintaining our consistently high employee satisfaction ratings.
My next, and last, post in this series will explore the right technology for keeping virtual teams humming.
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If 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.