November 22, 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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Comments

  1. Thanks for writing an informative post. I’m looking forward to your next post. Cheers

  2. I found here something new and interesting. Thanks

  3. This is most important information for me. I enjoyed reading your article. Good job, cheers.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your work, it was useful to me.

  5. I’m glad it was useful to me. Thanks for your work.

  6. Good post. I think its one of the most informative posts in this theme. Lookin’ forward.

  7. Project Junction - tips for learning project management says:

    I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago. You’re right, leadership is key. The right tools help too, virtual dashboards, online collaboration, Skype, etc.

  8. Good topic Linky! Your synopsis of Richard and Darlene’s book is excellent. I do have some concerns about the viewpoint that Richard and Darlene bring to the subject – they are not professional project managers and may not appreciate all of the issues that we face.

    I am often asked to address the issues of managing a virtual team and there are several other excellent resources that you might want to examine. I have some listed in a post a wrote in 2009 – http://fearnoproject.com/2009/07/17/project-management-keys-to-managing-a-remote-project-team/.

    Anyway – keep up the blog!

    Bruce

  9. Good Post. I have read quite a few posts on this topic and you have written about it the best. Keep it up!

  10. It is difficult to find experienced people about this question. Thanks

  11. Good article, thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well.

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