Building a Virtual Team

Volume 6 · Issue 4

AIM Strategies® engages in research to understand the challenges and opportunities of building a virtual team faced by our clients. Based on this research, we have developed a series of books and resources for building your virtual team. The Communicating Through a Global Lens, has been published and is available for purchase via our Website and Amazon. It focuses on the topic of team building strategies utilizing Cross Cultural Communication techniques. The article that follows, The 9 Elements of High Performing Global Virtual Teams, relates to our research on virtual team building strategies that work to incorporate global communication into their culture.

It is our hope that you enjoy the article and find actionable ideas for building a virtual team in your own organization. As always, your input is appreciated.

In This Issue

The 9 Elements of High Performing GVTs

21C – Era of Global Virtual Team (GVT)

Why do some global teams function more effectively than others? Given the complexities of working across time and space, leaders must ensure that procedures and behaviors are in place to facilitate high performance when you are building a virtual team. AIM Strategies® has researched and identified certain characteristics shared by all high functioning teams. Although it would be next to impossible to build your virtual team with all nine elements performing perfectly, successful GVTs recognize the importance of creating systems and behaving consistently around these nine essential categories.

1) Members Exhibit a Global Mindset

Effective global leaders widen their focus from the local to the global, thereby expanding the resource pool for the business. They are sensitive to the basics of working virtually – bridging cultural differences, aligning communication modes with workflow and discouraging behaviors that exhibit territoriality. They see the ‘big picture’ and make necessary accommodations to bridge potential and real differences among members. Effective global leaders go beyond their local comfort zone and figure out what motivates a wide variety of ‘people resources’ to contribute to a greater goal – not just those who share similar backgrounds. This global mindset allows them to focus on the overall good for the company and its customers.

In tandem with this ‘big picture’ is a determination to encourage diverse team members to work outside their comfort zones, take calculated risks (which is key to bringing great ideas to the surface). Encouraging team members to develop a global mindset implicitly creates an environment of respect. Simply stated, respect engenders buy-in, without which members can’t take ownership of work product and work towards a common goal.

Do your team members have a Global Mindset? If yes, how is this mindset manifested? If not, what prevents team members from having this mindset and what team building strategies can you do to foster it?

2) Members Share Responsibility

When team members are geographically co-located, personal relationships provide the ‘glue’ that binds the team together as well as facilitates a sense of purpose. Imbuing members with a team spirit that creates a cohesive work unit is, of course, more difficult in a virtual environment, and requires greater effort on the part of leaders to stress the commonality of purpose. High performing teams have created the conditions where members internalize their piece of the mission, thereby transcending the isolation that defines working in a virtual environment. Further, members have an understanding that they are mutually dependent on each other to achieve objectives.

How do you and your teammates facilitate a sense of shared responsibility around a common purpose?

3) A Culture of Tolerance Facilitates Trust

Effective global managers use team building strategies to create and maintain an environment of trust. They focus on behaviors, not on personalities, and give people the benefit of the doubt, because they know this engenders trust. When members know that they will not be penalized for asking basic questions or for proposing ‘wrong’ solutions, they are more willing to contribute their ideas and engage in breakthrough thinking. As the saying goes, none of us are as smart as all of us.

When a zone of trust is created, effective global leaders are ‘authentic’. They ‘say what they mean and mean what they say’ to a high degree and model the behavior for their team members. They can be counted on to follow through on what they promise; talk and action are aligned. Being able to take someone at his or her word increases the likelihood that teams function at a high capacity and that valuable time is not wasted revisiting tasks and issues that were previously addressed.

How effectively does your team culture facilitate trust and authenticity among members?

4) Members Engage in Meaningful Communication

First and foremost, high performing virtual teams (1) establish and maintain standards on frequency and modes of communication and (2) hold members accountable for acting accordingly. Team members make sure they are available to the team according to the established standards that all signed off on. For example, everyone knows the team’s normal working hours, and how often members check voice mail, email and interoffice mail. They know how quickly to respond to or acknowledge each type of communication. In high performing virtual teams the sender takes responsibility for prioritizing communication, clearly indicating what is informational and what requires action, and by whom.

Team members have figured out how to compensate for the loss of physical context in a virtual environment and make a real effort to share an understanding of situations that arise; they are willing to communicate and work together to find solutions. In addition, they are proficient at distance communication, and yet regularly use synchronous communication at critical points to speak with each other, email in real time or videoconference.

What protocols are in place to foster meaningful communication within your team?

5) Easy Flow of Communication Exists

Information is the lifeblood of projects, and effective global managers are building a virtual team with processes in place to ensure that all stakeholders are comfortable in asking for what they need, and stating when their needs are not met. Further, everyone has access to appropriate technology to enable reliable, current exchange of information. Of critical importance is the team’s access to competent and timely Systems Department support, including the assurance that file sharing and exchange is not compromised by compatibility issues.

Data comes at members of GVTs at a relentless pace. If information is “pushed” (unfiltered emails, phone calls and the like) then our time is not our own. Pulled information, such as (ie. Lotus Notes,) offers greater control because we choose when to take in information. When building a virtual team that is high performing, the ratio of pushed to pulled information is lower than normal.

Would you characterize your team environment as one in which information flows easily? Why?

6) Conflict Management Mechanisms are in Place

Conflicts are inevitable in the virtual environment where decision makers believe strongly in their own points of view and cannot hash out issues face to face. Further, simple miscommunications often don’t get acknowledged and fixed, and trust erodes. In virtual environments a conflict can be swept under the rug until it becomes such a big issue that it is hard to ignore. Build your virtual team with systems to resolve the tensions that arise from legitimate issues, so that energy can be used productively, instead of being turned against team members. Conflicts are identified early on and dealt with fairly, knowing that well-managed conflict clears the way for increased team commitment. Here again, the manager actively engages team members in communicating issues – no issue is too minor if someone brings it up – and follows up to ensure appropriate resolution. When a culture of conflict management is in place, members more easily communicate one-on-one, thereby avoiding lengthy, energy-draining confrontations.

What mechanisms does your team have in place to manage conflicts?

7) Performance Management Systems Buy-In

Written goals and objectives exist and are communicated to all members. (In optimum situations, team objectives relate directly to larger departmental goals, which in turn relate to divisional goals, which cascade from organizational goals.) Performance metrics that relate to these goals are in place, and team members are recognized and rewarded on how well they are met. Some department heads insist on detailed job descriptions. However, even if members only receive a general position statement with basic responsibilities, they have been informed of the assessment criteria upon which their job success will be based.

What elements of your Performance Management System create stakeholder buy-in?

8) Deliverables Produced Within Constraints

There is no substitute for operational competence in a global marketplace. When team members are geographically dispersed, a rigorous effort is required to coordinate and align components of critical work systems to meet deadlines within time and budgetary constraints. High performing teams have figured out how operational ‘nuts and bolts’ fit together to get deliverables out the door as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

What operational mechanisms did you put in place to get deliverables out the door when building a virtual team?

9) Members Exhibit a Positive Attitude

With an understanding that a positive, ‘can do’ attitude stimulates productivity, members of high functioning GVTs assume their efforts will lead to success. When conflicts and tension arise, as they inevitably do, members hold these situations within the context of the larger picture, and look to quickly find solutions, rather than assign blame. When building a virtual team , Global leaders stress the need for members to give each other the benefit of the doubt when frustrating situations come up, and to ‘walk a mile’ in the other person’s shoes to gain an understanding of another’s point of view.

How do you develop in your team members a positive attitude that overcomes time and distance challenges?

As you work globally across cultures use these team building strategies when building a virtual team and unlock the team potential of your global virtual teams.

About AIM Strategies

AIM Strategies® Applied Innovative Management® is a results-driven Human Capital Consulting firm specializing in the areas of: Global Leadership Development, Co-located and Virtual Team Facilitation, Cross Cultural Communications, and Change Integration Services. To request information about AIM’s experiential learning methods (5D’s™ Consulting/Proprietary Training Methodology and ACT™ Coaching Process), please email info@aim-strategies.com. In upcoming issues of this newsletter, we’ll update you on tips and techniques related to raising your innovative management IQ. We are confident that the solutions we develop fit your needs and culture. Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and visit www.aim-strategies.com to learn more about how our services unlock the people potential of your organization!

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