The Secret to Communication and Team Building in Virtual Teams

Communication and team building Communication and team building in virtual teams can be challenging, particularly while working on short term projects with people from different cultures around the world.

Clinton Dix, Ed. D. describes his interpretation and team building strategies in his guest post below.

Three Challenges of Virtual Team Leaders presented in A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams by Yael Zofi (Hint: It’s all about RELATIONSHIPS!) are:

1) Overcoming feelings of isolation within team members;
2) Overcoming the lack of understanding of team members’ personalities and ways of working; and
3) Overcoming the lack of personal history between team members.

When I first read that section of Yael Zofi’s book, it really struck me as being true. I have operated as a part of several virtual teams since 2004. But it was on the team that I was on from 2012 until 2015 that this really came alive.

The virtual team that I was on was actually a set of different teams. While the entire set of people remained pretty much the same, the actual makeup of each team was different. This is actually a phenomena called teaming by Dr. Amy Edmondson, in her book, Teaming (Harvard Business Press/Jossey-Bass, 2012). Dr. Edmondson defined teaming as the act of teamwork without the benefit of stable team membership. So my teams were multicultural, were made up of different individuals at different times, and had varying objectives. The individual teams might operate for a couple of months to over a year.

In addition, while I knew, to some degree, everybody on the team, the other team members mostly did not know each other.  So form a social network analysis perspective, I was the common node. In this context I found that all three of the challenges that Ms. Zofi’s listed were huge. It was up to me, as the social connector of the team, to meet those challenges.

So what I did was to meet periodically, using Skype, one-on-one with each team member. Through this process I was able to accomplish several things: Overcome their feelings of isolation (some of these team members were not co-located with any other colleagues from our various partnered organizations). I was able to learn some more of their personality and work habits. I would then allude to these traits in our team meetings so that the other team members would learn about the others. I would suggest that others talk one-on-one, via Skype, to hash out specific issues.

Our organizations are overtly spiritual, and talking about spiritual things, and praying for each other is common. So I would strengthen the relationship between team members by asking about their personal lives, being concerned for what was going on with their families, and by praying for each other during the meeting. I found that my role on these teams was very relational. For those teams that I was team leader I had much greater task oriented responsibilities, but I found that, in those situations, I could not reduce the relationship orientation that I took.

On the contrary, as team leader my relationship orientation needed to be even greater than on those teams where I was not leader. So I found that social connections were the lubricant that made virtual teams work. Ms. Zofi, in her book, gave a very useful framework of the challenges that helped me create the right kind of oil to make the teams function. She was correct: Virtual teams are all about relationships!

Clinton Dix can be reached via LinkedIn

Posted in Virtual Management