Volume 6 • Issue 2
WELCOME to our e-newsletter on the virtual working group!
We hope that the topic of the virtual landscape that we introduced in our newsletter resonates with you and that it generated meaningful discussions within your organization.
Techniques to SET-UP, FOLLOW-THROUGH and REFRESH Virtually
Walk into any office today, and you know things are not as they were a decade ago. If you engage employees in conversation, many will say that they are working on some projects with co-workers who are not located in their building, their city, or even in the same country. Ask them if they have met these same teammates, and some may claim to have viewed pictures posted on an intranet, while others may tell you of traveling to a corporate offsite.
Although this virtual work arrangement already exists in some offices, the reality is that 41 million employees worldwide spent at least one day a week working ‘virtually’.* The virtual working group, is a group of people sharing responsibilities for goals that must be accomplished in the total, or near total, absence of face-to-face contact. Enabled by technology, the virtual working group is a natural solution for solving business issues in our fast-paced global environment. Increasingly, leaders are charged with quickly putting together teams of appropriate skills and abilities to fit a project’s timeline, regardless where the talent is physically located. In such situations, email has usurped voicemail while conference calls have replaced conference rooms as the meeting venue of choice.
*Source: The Gartner Group
As virtual work arrangements become increasingly popular, leaders will grapple with a profound issue – how to get team members to bond and form the energy so vital to pushing projects forward and achieving results. AIM Strategies® has created an outline for virtual team processes called the VIRTUAL ROADMAP for leaders to help their teams establish connections, preparing them for possible scenarios that do not occur in a traditional (otherwise known as “co-located”) team. Our VIRTUAL ROADMAP is a practical blueprint to guide team members in achieving goals in this complex and unpredictable environment. It consists of three phases: SET-UP, FOLLOW-THROUGH, and REFRESH.
In the SET-UP phase the leader explains the TEAM DESTINATION, ensures TEAM SYNTHESIS, creates RULES OF THE ROAD and provides advice on potential ROADBLOCKS that may arise.
FOLLOW-THROUGH is what the leader does to ensure that the team adheres to norms created in the SET-UP phase. Activities include DRIVING ACCOUNTABILITY, PERFORMING MAINTENANCE, and AVOIDING SHARP TURNS as the team moves forward.
Finally, in the REFRESH stage the leader renews the energy in a long-standing team. Tools and techniques include: SHIFTING GEARS; TUNE-UPS and REFUELING.
This Newsletter describes the REFRESH phase. For more information, please contact Yael at email@example.com or call 718-832-6767.
During a team’s natural life span changes occur because the project’s original goals may undergo revision; in addition, new members join and others depart. Leaders need to keep members connected while SHIFTING GEARS, by performing TUNE-UPS and REFUELING.
Shifting Gears – Since virtual working groups allow for flexibility in engaging, and disengaging specific expertise at any point, their makeup tends to change more than co-located teams. Members contribute their expertise and then move on to other projects. Handling transitions smoothly is necessary to maintaining a constant speed on the journey. Therefore, appropriate on-boarding materials – or RULES OF THE ROAD – should be available to new members so they can quickly get up to speed.
If possible, when someone new joins the group, a team conversation should take place. It helps to explain to the newest member why certain rules and policies are in place. Further, s/he can offer feedback from a new perspective and/or contribute new ideas. Although team veterans may not value such exercises, ignoring these rituals can destroy the cohesive culture that teammates have worked so hard to achieve.
Similarly, not marking one member’s departure, and acknowledging his/her contributions, can decrease morale in remaining participants. Overlooking someone’s accomplishments can lead other members to think that their own efforts are not valued, causing a decline in morale. To avoid this situation, collect lessons learned from departing members; doing so also helps ensure that ex-members will be inclined to speak positively about the team to others in the organization.
Changing leadership is another important transition in any team. Given its diverse make-up, a successful virtual working group requires the collective cooperation and input from all members. New leaders should respect the team’s dynamic and become knowledgeable about the current mode of operation before making major changes.
Tune-Ups – even a stable virtual working group requires the leader to periodically check-in to make sure that members have weathered the bumps in the road. These TUNE-UPS allow possible conflicts to surface early, so that they do not fester and potentially derail the project. It’s also helpful to evaluate the technology in use on a regular basis since utilizing newer technology may facilitate communication.
When the leader performs this check-in, s/he has the option of assigning one member to solicit everyone’s perceptions about the team’s dynamics. Once gaps are identified, measures can be taken to rectify shortcomings.
Refueling – As additional time passes in the lifespan of a virtual working group, dips in energy may occur and new priorities can diminish the participants’ level of commitment. The leader must be sensitive to the need to recharge batteries. When this occurs, the team can build shared understanding by taking advantage of blogs, which are increasingly popular. Blogs are a great forum for discussing work-related issues, and non-work matters, as members grow more comfortable with other. Companies like IBM have already discovered the benefits of allowing employees to blog, understanding that these interactions build community in a dispersed environment.
Virtual working group members can also engage in Happy Hour – Virtual Style! Although the team cannot gather after work for dinner or drinks, they can agree on a specific time to ‘instant message’ each other, relaxing while they chat. At first, questions can be scripted; as participants comfort level increases these formal interactions will give way to natural conversation.
Often, virtual working groups are comprised of team members who work on a combination of virtual working groups and co-located teams. In these situations, the leader is the key link for his/her own team, interacting with other managers of co-located or virtual working groups to ensure that multiple priorities do not prevent work from moving forward. Shell Chemicals, a multi-national organization, for example, utilizes this type of linking, with leaders acting on behalf of their own virtual working group, negotiating time and work issues with home office or other virtual working group leaders. By communicating with peers to discuss common issues, their own team members can devote an appropriate amount of time to each project.
The life cycle of a virtual working group is a complex variation on a traditional theme – the team as central to work processes and flow. As it travels through the SET-UP, FOLLOW-THROUGH, and REFRESH stages, a virtual working group takes some steps that co-located teams do not. Some leaders may find these extra steps cumbersome and unnecessary. However, savvy leaders know when to take, not avoid, a step that means the difference between high performance and adequate results.
The reality is that they are here to stay. Back in 2002, R. Emelo and L. M. Francis stated that by 2010 70% of the US population will interact virtually ten times longer per day than they do now. Given the pace of globalization, this figure may be conservative. Today, successful leaders need to understand how the various demands of the virtual environment impact workflow in the attainment of formidable business goals. That said, we hope that the RULES OF THE ROAD we’ve shared here and in our previous two newsletters guide leaders of 21C organizations to a successful tomorrow.
With these clear, easy to follow procedures in place, your team has a head start to handle the complexities of working in the virtual environment.
AIM offers training modules to help your virtual working group members write effective emails and REFRESH their VIRTUAL ROADMAP. For more information, please contact 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!