HOW VIRTUAL COOPERATION WORKS
Do you wish to put your team on the right course for success in a virtual or partially virtual environment? Then it is advisable to pay special attention to certain aspects.
THE FACTOR TEAM CULTURE
In order to produce good cooperation and good performance in virtual teams, the kind of team culture required is not basically different from that of teams working together in the same office. However, aspects that don't work well tend to have a much more negative impact in virtual teams. So it makes all the more sense to focus on and deal with even minor difficulties. The solution here is to conduct regular team reviews.
Communication media also play an important role here. Whenever videoconferencing is possible, this is better than telephone conferences. This also helps in multicultural teams where not all members communicate in their native language.
PROMOTING INDIVIDUAL SKILLS AND SELF-ORGANIZATION
In virtual teams it is not always immediately clear who can contribute which talents. This is especially true for talents that may not appear to have anything directly to do with the focus of the work, but whose integration can provide added value for the team. So it is important to create space for an exchange of ideas. And knowledge transfer doesn’t just happen on its own. Here too, it takes time and appropriate formats to enable the exchange of knowledge and information.
The capacity to organize one’s own work is of particular importance in virtual teams. Not everyone likes or has the inclination to organize themselves, and whether people have space for self-organization is often also a question of leadership style. Therefore it is important to find out the preferences and needs of managers and team members alike and to assist them as required.
CLEAR DEFINITION OF RULES, AGREEMENTS AND ROLES
What are the core working hours? Who can be contacted by telephone when questions arise, and when? How should knowledge and information be shared and work packages be distributed? Even these few questions show how important clear arrangements are for teams so that everyone has the same understanding of the processes involved. If colleagues do not (often) see each other and micro-coordination is difficult, unambiguous rules are extremely helpful. Although only within the bounds of common sense, of course, because superfluous bureaucracy and over-rigid rules hinder flexibility.
A good way of making sure that agreements can be adapted agilely and iteratively is to hold regular retrospectives focusing on processes and cooperation. Furthermore, it should be clear who can expect what from whom. Role descriptions are a good way to promote clarity.
LOOKING CLOSELY AT TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGIES
Just because everyone has access to a particular virtual cooperation tool does not mean that there is a common understanding of how to use it efficiently. A careful scrutiny of the team's requirements may reveal that the tool does not provide what is actually needed in practice.
Targeted analysis and the use of tool and process prototypes can quickly clarify what is actually needed for efficiency in a virtual team. For example, technology must enable virtual teams to share information as easily and asynchronously as possible, whether via chats, wikis, intranet, corporate social networks or file storage. It is important that everyone can work on the same document with the same version.
It goes without saying that all team members need to have or be able to acquire the required technical competence, and that people cooperating in cyberspace need correspondingly reliable equipment.
LEADING A VIRTUAL TEAM IS MORE DEMANDING
Managers of virtual teams usually have to meet the same demands as those of non-virtual teams. However, many things are more difficult to achieve, organize and establish in virtual teams. For example, there is a need for common goals and a common team vision. After all, a team is only a team when it is pursuing a goal that it can only achieve as a team and no individual can achieve alone. This applies equally to virtual teams, but it is usually more difficult to pull on the same rope and grow together.
Another challenge can arise through different cultural backgrounds and expectations as to the manager’s role. Although this applies to non-virtual teams as well, it is more commonly encountered in virtual teams, even if the participants only live in different regions of the same country. A degree of cultural sensitivity and good communication and dialogue skills are required here.
ESTABLISHING ROUTINES IN A VIRTUAL TEAM
Certain routines can give virtual teams a real productivity boost. One example is joint stand-ups for daily synchronization. Then there are virtual work sprints to tackle major issues, and of course regular planning meetings and retrospectives. What is right for any given team has to be considered from case to case, of course. It is important that routines are not allowed to take on a life of their own, as it were. Instead, there should be regular appraisals as to which processes and routines are really necessary and how they can be set up to be as efficient and goal-oriented as possible for all concerned.
SPEEDING UP DECISION-MAKING IN VIRTUAL TEAMS
Easy to coordinate in the office, sometimes tough and tedious in a virtual team. But even here, lean processes can be found that ensure both fast and high-quality decision-making without that need not be centrally directed. Have you ever heard of a ‘consultative individual decision’? Or about ‘delegation poker’? There are many helpful approaches available.
SENSIBLE USE OF VIRTUAL TEAM MEETINGS
Regularly connecting at appropriate intervals and checking back with each other as to the status of individual work packages should be a matter of course in a virtual team, and that is usually the case. However, our experience shows that the format and conduct of such regular meetings are often not perceived as being very useful by the participants. This is especially disadvantageous when it makes people withdraw from meetings or not participate at all.
Attention often wanders in a virtual meeting. Or some participants continue to do their other work at the same time and only join in the conversation when they are asked to. It is important to realize that time spent together in virtual teams is very valuable and must not be wasted. We support our customers in developing suitable formats to make virtual meetings efficient and meaningful.
TRANSITIONING FROM REAL TO VIRTUAL - OR VICE VERSA
If you are currently virtualizing your entire team or some members are going to work virtually in the future - e.g. from home following parental leave - then it is worth ensuring that the transition goes as smoothly as possible. This process will certainly also bring about benefits for those who continue to work in the office.
So far you have only got to know the rest of the team on a virtual basis? And now there is chance to meet in person? A great opportunity to take a look at the cooperation and common routines and to get to know each other better. We would be glad to supply ideas and concepts to use the occasion for sustainable development within the team.