April 24, 2014

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Virtual Teams – 6 Lessons for Success

successfully managing virtual teams

Being the project manager of a virtual team can be quite a challenge. The normal rules for teams who are co-located do not apply to virtual teams.  With the advances in technology it has become easier to organise and manage dispersed groups of people.  This post will focus on the lessons to apply to successfully manage virtual teams.

Some advantages of virtual teams are that companies can hire the best talent regardless of their location. Similarly for projects, you may hire the best resources for the relevant roles on the project team to ensure you have the most suitable people to perform the project tasks.

One problem is that companies tend to treat their virtual teams the same way than they treat teams who share a location. Leaders and project managers need to realize that different guidelines and best practices would apply to virtual teams.

From a study done by OnPoint Consulting, it was found that virtual teams have common pitfalls:

  • Lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities due to communication challenges with dispersed teams.
  • Lack of clear roles among team members. It is very important for virtual team members to understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members.
  • Lack of cooperation and trust due to lack of face-to-face contact.
  • Lack of engagement. Virtual teams can be more distracted and there is a lack of dynamic face-to-face interaction.

In the book: “Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance” (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley), there are 6 lessons for creating successful virtual teams:

1.       Focus on people issues. It is easier to succeed when the whole team is engaged and communicating

2.       No trust, no team. Sometimes in virtual teams trust is more at a task level than at an interpersonal level. It is important that the team meets face-to-face early in the team’s formation.

3.    Soft skills are essential. Virtual teams who have been through team building and interpersonal skill development perform better.

4.    Watch out for performance peaks. Many virtual teams face a performance peak after about 12 months. For virtual project teams this could be after shorter periods like 6 months.  After that performance tends to decline.

5.    Create a high-touch environment. Virtual team members need to meet at least once a year and for project teams regularly throughout the phases of the project.

6.    Virtual team leadership matters. Leadership is the factor most important to the success of virtual teams. Team leaders in a virtual environment must be especially sensitive to interpersonal communication and cultural factors.

Better planning around the formation and management of virtual team can have a major impact on virtual team success.  In a nutshell, these are some pointers to assist you with managing successful virtual teams who perform as expected and who can achieve synergy despite being physically apart. If you have experience working with virtual teams, please share some of your lessons in the comments section.

In the next post I am going to share some lessons that I have learnt from working with virtual teams and what the important factors are to manage consistently.

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