Published in Project Times
July 24, 2013
Managing traditional teams will no longer be enough! Instead, in order to thrive in the new normal business environment, learning how to master virtual teams will be a necessity! The new normal is characterized by volatility, lacklustre sales, elevated customer service expectations, and a shortage of talent, increased global requirements and an information-overloaded workforce. Thus, teams will have to collaborate across functions, sites, oceans and organizations.
Unlike typical teams, managing virtual teams will require a different process and managerial style. Yet it will be vital to professional success as more and more teams are moving towards virtual. In my experience across countless industries and globally, there are increasingly more virtual teams than standard teams. If you take a step back and think about your project teams, I’d venture to guess that you have at least some element of virtual teams already underway. Thus, the question is how well we are optimizing virtual teams.
To start, we brainstormed the most common virtual teams: 1) Cross-functional teams. 2) Cross-sites/ facilities. 3) Collaborating with customers. 4) Collaborating with suppliers. 5) Collaborating with trusted advisors such as bankers and CPA firms.
Next, prior to thinking about how to manage virtual teams, it makes sense to consider a few options for conducting virtual team meetings:
- Conference call: Although tried and true, conference calls can be quite effective. There is no reason to waste time and energy on more elaborate methods for situations that a simple conference call can resolve. I’ve found it’s a great way to conduct relatively short cross-facility and collaboration meetings.
- Webinar: This medium has been gaining momentum as it allows for audio and visual. Typically I’ve found this to be most effective for presentations with numbers and spread sheet reviews.
- Videoconference: Undoubtedly, this is the best medium for those occasions when you need to be able to see your counterparts to interact real-time.
- Intranet: The intranet can provide a medium for a virtual team’s collaboration without team interaction. For example, if all of the team’s documents were on the intranet, each person could update as tasks are completed and be notified of other’s progress. It could also allow for forums, videos etc. for discussion and questions; however, it would be more of a question and response vs. a conversation. At times, this can be the best option from an efficiency standpoint.
- Combination: I’ve found the ultimate solution to be a combination of all mediums – as each one makes sense. There is no reason to think of every situation as a nail because you happen to have a hammer. For example, if you just purchased videoconference equipment or learned how to Skype, it doesn’t mean every meeting should be done with this medium. It is certainly impossible for those driving to participate with this medium.
Instead, think about whether you need to be able to see the person’s reactions (videoconference would be preferred), hear the person’s responses (conference call would suffice), follow along on a project plan (a webinar would be ideal) or just need to be up-to-speed on the latest status update for the critical path (the intranet would work just fine). It is not only more efficient to use the best medium for the situation but it is optimum from a relationship standpoint. For example, no one wants to be tied up in a conference room on a video conference for hours to learn what they could look up in 5 minutes on the intranet. On the other hand, a teambuilding exercise should never be done on the intranet. It would be ridiculous!
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate medium for your virtual team, you’ll want to conduct an effective meeting or run a successful project. Thus, a few tips are in order:
- Become a master facilitator: Brush up on your facilitation skills. Although never preferred it’s ok (and survivable) to be mediocre when facilitating in person; however, it will be the kiss of death on a conference call or webinar. You must be able to bring all participants into the conversation smoothly. Practice makes perfect – or at least better than mediocre!
- Practice transitions: One of the keys to success is to be able to transition from one person to the next or one concept to the next while engaging the entire team; thus, practice how to transition while leveraging each medium. How will you gain the attention of folks looking at their cell phones when transitioning? Is there a phrase that will gain rapid attention? Try a few alternatives and see what works.
- Consider your voice: When not meeting in person, your voice can easily be misinterpreted. First, start by asking whether you can be heard. It sounds quite simple but is often overlooked. I’ve found that a surprising number of executives cannot be heard on conference calls. I see folks with an ear literally inches from the phone as they don’t want to tell the CEO that he cannot be heard. Next, pay close attention to tone and its implication. When not visible, your voice elevates in importance.
- Keep notes: Often, without a physical meeting it can be easy to overlook a person or entire function if they do not speak up. Make sure to have the agenda and a few notes for who you want to involve in the discussion, questions you want to ask to bring out all participants, etc. I find that this is effective for all meetings as it becomes harder and harder in an information-overloaded society to remember key points.
Since virtual meetings will be a mainstay in the professional world and especially with project teams, it is incumbent upon us to find a way to succeed in this environment. Find a way to conduct successful virtual meetings and you’ll not only stand out in the crowd but you’ll thrive in today’s new normal business environment.