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Do you have any material on advising virtual teams to work together?

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I have been asked to give some advice to a newly set up virtual remote team on how best to work together.

They consist of about 30 people, from 7 different countries and 11 different office locations. There are no formal or informal reporting lines. The 'team' consists of technical and sales staff who are tasked with promoting internally and externally a new product line and will meet virtually once a month.

Do you have, or can you recommend any theory or material on this topic?

Thanks - and 'Happy Holidays'
Annah
Annah Ross

5 Responses

  1. wonderful project, virtually speaking..
    Hi Annah, congratulations, sounds like this is going to be a wonderful challenge for 2006, If I were in your position, I would probably try to think about the following and get them involved from the outset:

    a)Communication policies
    b)Introduction to the online platform they will be using to communicate
    c) an area for all to access a database of who is who and who knows what,when people are available etc.
    d) What about an online project induction course? Projects usually need to start yesterday but some kind of induction could save a lot of aggravation and investment, later down the line
    e)You need to be clear right from the outset which language the project will be done in, communication between German speakers for example could alienate other project members
    f) set up a glossary of project specific terminology, including translations to avoid people talking at crossed purposes
    g) virtual meetings as you mentioned will be key. What about during the course of the month, how are people going to be kept up to speed on the projects progress?
    h) Intercultural training, would be adviseable. Get back to me if you need more information on providers in that area.
    i) once a year it would be advantageous to get the whole team together, make it a party if possible with an information element.

    Hope that helps
    Let me know how you get on, I would be interested to know what you decide to implement.

  2. perhaps…
    Annah
    I did just this a couple of years back for a client.
    If you are interested I can send you the agenda from the awayday the I ran for the team.
    If you can’t get the client to set up a get together then it may be pretty pointless though it may give you some ideas!
    Rus Slater

  3. Your notes would be very useful.
    Thank you Rus, your notes would be very useful. They are having their first team meeting on the 19th January so I’ll be able to get them all together for a session then.

    My email address is annah.ross@acxiom.com

    Regards

  4. Remember they are Human
    Hi Annah. Connie’s comments are really useful and helpful. My experience, too, tells me that what people STILL want and need from their organisations is not only the structure to support the business, but to FEEL like they belong. This may mean that a more senior person is popping along to these various individuals (okay, at great expense on a cashflow . . .) to sit with them, review their work, their concerns, and importantly, their successes. Co-hesive and clear conclusions are vital with a virtual team.

    While all this, from an organisational point of view, is very highly desirable, many virtual teams fall down because they feel lonely and isolated. We are humans after all. Ensuring that there is a system for supporting the humanity of a virtual team is critical.

    And also, reflecting on some I’ve worked with in the past – not to overload them with changing or conflicting guidelines and goalposts (this probably means re-educating more local members of the team or those in the reporting structure); and to ensure that any local line managers are kept abreast – not just by the individual in the virtual team – but by someone else who receives the results from the team, on the progress of the individual.

    Gosh, Annah, it seems, too like there is more but that’s it for the moment.

    I wish you and the team great success.

    Catherine

  5. Creating the Context is Key
    Dear Annah:

    Before becoming an independent Learning Coach, I have spent 12+ years with the UN in learning and capacity development related fields. Today I own a collaboration software (http://coachingplatform.com) and most of my coaching or consulting work faces the same challenges you are facing. I find that an Action Learning approach where the group is dealing with real problems and solutions works best.

    I believe that as a manager of such a decentralized project, your main focus should be on creating and nurturing a context where the collaboration can happen. Content is secondary! You have not specified the collaboration software you plan to use but email is certainly not enough for such a community to be successful.

    I have often used this very useful list of tips “Ten Ways To Make Online Learning Groups Work” that I came across many years ago. This article by Lisa Kimball appeared in Educational Leadership, October 1995.

    1. Identify the Purpose — make it explicit. Will members exchange info? generate new ideas? learn and explore?
    2. Define roles —peer learners? team members? support and encourage?
    3. Create an ambiance — use the first post to set the tone, model message formatting. Your first response should model what you are looking for in responses. Don’t be heavy handed and create a boring experience, but state the type of atmosphere you hope to create.
    4. Nourish conversation — keep the group fresh and growing. Ask questions. Offer a case study. Suggest polling the group. Get participants to respond to each other. Watch for overload.
    5. Provide feedback — encourage writers who contribute good messages by sending thank you e-mails. If negative feedback is appropriate, give suggestions for improvement. Encourage lurkers by asking them questions they need to respond to.
    6. Adjust the pace — if some participants sign on four/five times a day and respond, they may need to be slowed down for the others — or the others may need to encouraged to look on more often.
    7. Support and recruit new members — if new members join the group after it is in progress, get them to introduce themselves to the group. Encourage them to respond.
    8. Recap by weaving — summarize and synthesize multiple responses — or ask the participants to take that project on. Identify issues that people agree/disagree on, that may need more information.
    9. Track participation — pay attention to who is doing what. Who reads which messages, who responds, etc.
    10. Go with the flow — no right answer on what should be happening, just pay attention so you can be a more purposeful facilitator.

    Feel free to contact me in Berlin where I live now if you think that I might be of further assistance: gunnar.bruckner@coachingplatform.com

    All the best…Gunnar

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