Setting Your Team Code When Building a Virtual Team

Best Practice: Building a Virtual Team with Team Code

Today I conducted a webinar on building a virtual team utilizing ways to effectively lead virtual team meetings with American Management Association – AMA (see link below):


During the webinar, several participants requested additional information about setting Team Code when building a virtual team. I offered to provide it on my blog and provide a little more background around these team building strategies.

One best practice of high performing virtual teams is to set the Team Code: way of operating, working virtually, behaviors that are appropriate, activities that are agreed, etc. This can be done early when building a virtual team or even in the midst of the team’s life cycle. Virtual teams can set priorities around team objectives to help all members focus on the main norms – ways we want to work together and conduct meetings. Team Codes can be organized in the following ways:

• Have a Team Code around acceptable behaviors associated with multi-tasking, such as:

– Running errands during work hours.
– Turning off cell phone ringer/buzzer, email notification, MP3 and tuning in
during calls.
– Confronting or reminding team members who excessively multi-task.
– Agreeing on when to use the “mute” button during phone conferences.
– Agreeing that certain multi-tasking behavior is acceptable provided that
it is done within reason. One virtual manager at a Semiconductor Chips
Company agreed with her team that during long meetings people could
work on their laptops while listening. They were not forced to participate
unless something was relevant to their part of the project.

• Realizing that multi-tasking is common in the virtual environment, help team members to prioritize and to become fully present while on your calls by creating more urgency around deliverables.

A virtual manager who worked at an Aerospace Company told me how surprised she was that team members found it difficult to focus because they were multi-tasking. She shared her new approach with me. “I created expectations around more active participation so people would continue to pay attention and stay focused during our calls. I touched base with them more frequently than I did with colleagues in the same building and created strict deadlines where everyone was held accountable. I insisted that everyone call each other frequently between team meetings. I told them, ‘This team will succeed or fail together and we all must stop multitasking so that our team focus can return.”

Another virtual manager at a software company who shares this view suggested saying to people upfront, ‘I need you to be fully present at this meeting. If you can’t, then don’t bother attending.’ With this bluntly delivered message she finds that most people apologize and then give her one hour of attention; if she senses that they are not focused, she reschedules the meeting for another time.

• Ensure that a communication system exists to alert everyone when certain team members are participating in a scheduled conference call, and therefore unavailable to quickly respond to emails.

• Check in with teammates regularly by asking questions; for example, “How is it going on project X?” and get them involved in the dialogue during the call.

• Focus on adding value rather than adding volume. Identify activities that will truly add value to what is important and do them.

• Pay attention to what you can get done now.

You can also set Team Codes for Emails with your virtual team. Below is a sample:

Team Code Sample: Suggested Protocols for Emails
LEVEL OF URGENCY – Filter emails with the word ‘Urgent’ into an Urgent folder that gets checked more frequently than others (see below).
LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE – Filter emails from an important stakeholder or related to a key deliverable into an ‘Important’ folder.
FREQUENCY – check all other emails within agreed amount of time, and responded to within 24 hours.

  • FOR REQUESTS– construct a subject line to make it easily searchable. An urgent request may read, Urgent: By 2 pm for VP: Need yesterday’s sales for Product X. Include key information, such as who needs what by when, in sufficient detail to complete the task, and be sure your callback number is part of your e-mail signature. If the request is urgent / important, a good idea is to call your colleague or leave a short voicemail with a heads up about your request.
  • FOR INFORMATIONAL OR COMPLEX EXPLANATIONS – call before sending. If s/he is unavailable send a separate email to request a phone meeting. Meeting Request: By 3/14. Need 30 minutes to discuss XYZ.

And finally, similarly to creating Team Code agreements for email use, virtual teams can also develop a Team Code for voicemail when building a virtual team. Some managers set these expectations early and post it for the team. Below is an example:

Team Code for Voicemail
  • Acceptable checking and response times: Check voicemail twice daily and respond within 24 hours.
  • Length of messages: 15 seconds or less.
  • Purpose: a quick check in or to ask a simple question. Don’t say ‘Urgent’ unless a message needs quick response or you will lose your credibility.
  • Follow-up voice messages with written documentation (email) when appropriate.
  • When transferring a message, include a short explanation why you are doing so.

We hope you found this helpful for the next time you are building a virtual team.

Posted in Virtual Business Offices