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Effective Management Techniques for Virtual Teams

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda Barnes
June 30, 2015

What is a virtual team?

Barnes juneVirtual teams are work groups with core members who interact primarily through electronic means since they are not in the same physical work location and they are engaged in interdependent tasks.

Despite the unique challenges virtual teams encounter, they have become a vital and important part of the business world. Since their emergence well over a decade ago, much has been learned about running them effectively in order to mitigate any negative psychological effects on team members and team performance.

Effective management techniques for virtual teams

In “Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles” Watkins outlines 10 basic principles managers should follow:

1)    Get the team together physically early on and hold face-to-face meetings at least annually. Face-to-face communication is a better way to build relationships and foster trust than virtual.

2)    Clarify tasks and processes not just goals and roles. Make sure it’s clear what needs to be done and follow-up regularly to ensure employees understand.

3)    Commit to a communication charter. Guidelines on when to use email, instant messaging or phone should be established.

4)    Leverage the best communication technologies available.

5)    Build a team with rhythm. Hold team meetings at regularly scheduled days and times. This sense of routine helps employees stay connected to the team.

6)    Agree on a shared language if team members are in different countries.

7)    Create a virtual water cooler. Having portions of group meetings devoted to “roundtable” or miscellaneous discussions lets employees chat with one another instead of just focusing on the task. This greatly fosters camaraderie.

8)    Clarify and track commitments. This ensures all team members are working toward a common goal/ commitment.

9)    Foster shared leadership. It is good practice to let employees have responsible roles.

10)  Don’t forget to hold one-on-one meetings to provide individual feedback to employees.

Why clear communication is important for virtual teams

In the article, “Teams as Key to Organizational Communication,” Preston states communication is important in establishing the team, explaining the purpose or goal, answering questions, getting buy-in and achieving the goals. According to Preston, the four elements of effective communication are:

1) Promoting candid communication. Team members should be willing to openly discuss their views and be flexible enough to change their minds when new information is given.

2) Probing for information. The team leader should ask employees questions that will invite a variety of opinions, such as in brainstorming.

3) Listening for understanding. The team leader and members should actively listen, giving their undivided attention to the discussion. If something is unclear it should be clarified as soon as possible.

4) Presenting information and ideas. The team leader and members should express themselves clearly and repeat what they stated asking if others understood it that way.

In addition, Preston also asserts it is very important to regularly employ these strategies for team building:

1) Regularly and frequently schedule team-building sessions. It is important to make this a regular part of their work activity, otherwise they’ll forget.

2) Emphasize team building to be satisfying and fun. This should help employees see their unique contribution to the organization.

3) Base team-building efforts on trust. This is possible only through enriched and more effective communication.

If management is able to successfully employ these elements of effective communication in team-building and operation, the organization will be better able to accomplish goals.

It is important for managers to communicate to the entire organization the virtual team’s purpose, how the virtual team’s work fits in with the overall mission and vision of the organization and how the virtual team will be evaluated. This will create a platform for success as the team is considered an important part of the organization.

I enjoy being a member of a virtual team because I have the opportunity to interact with team members from across the country in a very close way. It has also made me realize how important clear verbal and written communication is since you are not able to see facial expressions and body language.

I think is very important for virtual team members to have strong verbal communication skills to communicate the goals and expectations of the organization to the other team members and to stay connected. The lack of clear communication in a virtual team can result in frustration, feelings of inadequacy and failure when a team member is unable to anticipate what is needed. This can lead to poor morale.

Author: Linda Barnes is a management and program analyst with the federal government where she specializes in human resource and administrative matters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Northeastern Illinois University and a MPA degree from American Public University. Email: [email protected]

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