The 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.