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The growth of virtual teams (also known as distributed or remote teams) is remarkable. It is no longer uncommon to work with colleagues who are located on the other side of the world. From quick-growing start-ups and a network of digital nomads to great multinationals, more and more teams are geographically spread over the whole world. And that brings challenges when it comes to building a team.

In February, Doors Open visited Norway, where Suzanne mentored a newly created project team consisting of 10 different nationalities, coming from 6 different organizations and spread over 4 countries, for the start of a new project.

A team like this comes with challenges. Although teams that are geographically located in the same place are also not always easy to manage either, virtual teams differ on 3 aspects:

Tips how to build a virtual team

1 – Complexity

Virtual teams are more complex in creation in comparison to teams that work in the same location. Language barriers, cultural differences, other backgrounds, different working times and irregular access to technology and communication platforms, make working as a virtual team a big(ger) challenge

2 – Invisibility

“Yes, we agreed on this at the coffee corner” or “We brainstormed a new project during the after-work drinks”.  Physical proximity makes working together easier in many ways. There are even researches which show that if you are more than 30 metres apart from the other, the collaboration becomes more difficult.

3 – Broken and complicated communication

A great deal of our communication has nothing to do with what we say.

Moreover, when it comes to face-to-face communication, 93% of what we communicate is non-verbal.

Without the face-to-face contact, many virtual teams are completely reliant on verbal communication. We don’t have anything other than words. Even in audio-conferences 50% of what is said, is lost. This leads to a higher risk of misunderstandings and incomprehension. Especially if the different cultures and language barriers are added to this.

How do you make sure , with all these additional challenges, that a team which is spread all over the world still functions well? These are our 10 tips:

1 – Ensure that there is a shared vision

In every team, virtual or not, a shared vision is crucial. Why are we working on this project every single day? What is our goal? Therefore, it is no surprise that the lack of common interest is 1 of 5 of the most important reasons why teams – distribuive or not – fail.

2 – Create trust

In virtual teams, trust is even more important than in physical teams. A very important prerequisite for trust is acquaintance. Make sure that the team members get to know each other and the team. If possible, start off face-to-face and then move towards becoming a virtual team. Make sure that you create a feedback-culture (see point 6 on this list) and that promises are being fulfilled. Often it works well if you first let your team members fulfil small and clear tasks. This will help build trust gradually.

3 – Create a “Way we work” document together

Many virtual teams fail because the “Way we work” is not carried out by everyone. When the virtual team starts, let the team members contribute and create a “Way we work” document, that is based on 3 pillars: trust, shared understanding and communication.

Capture important agreements in this document, such as: When are we available? Do we prefer to communicate by e-mail or via Skype? Which platform do we choose as most important way to communicate? How and what do we communicate during a meeting, and what outside of the meeting? In which language do we communicate? Let the team members express their preferences and take this to build on a way of collaboration that works for and is carried out by everyone.

4 – Don’t underestimate (cultural) differences!

“Non-native” speakers might tend to hold their opinions back during meetings, because they might feel uncomfortable. Are you in charge of facilitating a virtual meeting? If so, try to facilitate participation as much as possible. More importantly, do not go with the “silence shows consent” principle and be aware that different cultures express themselves differently. Ask for confirmation, if something that is (not) said really is meant that way in reality. That way you reduce the risk of misunderstandings like the one below:

Cultural differences in a team

5 – Create routine

Keep communicating with all team members frequently. For example, after weekly video calls.

6 – Ask for feedback – and explain what you are doing

Due to the lack of face-to-face communication, the chance of misunderstandings and miscommunication is much bigger. That is why asking for feedback is even more important in a virtual team than in a non-virtual team. Don’t make assumptions but ask for a concrete response. During our session in Norway, the team members had to do an exercise where they had to work together without seeing each other. It is surprising how quickly you work past each other. Feedback and clear communication are essential for virtual teams.

Are you curious how you can create an effective and efficient feedback culture? Contact us, we are happy to tell you everything about it!

7 – Use the right tools for important information

Working virtually creates a great risk that important information gets spread over the (whether or not it’s private) computers of team members. Make sure this information is accessible for every member in a secured and centralized way. This way you can avoid wasting time.

8 – Minimize the use of e-mails

This sounds contrasting, because how are you supposed to communicate with a team if you only have digital contact? The problem is, that many virtual teams tend to send every e-mail to everyone, which leads to an overload of information. Only send the e-mail to those colleagues who are directly concerned with the question. Do you need a quick response? In that case you can choose a chat program where you can directly answer questions.

9 – Shared responsibility is no responsibility

Clearly define and communicate who is responsible for which tasks in the team. As the leader, arrange frequent feedback sessions and remind people of their responsibilities.

Doors Open - Blog - Hoe bouw je een goed virtueel team

10 – Celebrate successes and milestones

Just like in teams where the members are geographically situated in the same location, celebrating successes is equally important to virtual teams. This keeps the motivation up.

Do you have tips that you use with your virtual team? Let us know in the comments below. Would you like to work with Doors Open to build a successful virtual team? Contact us, we are happy to have a cup of coffee with you. Via Skype, or on location.

Have you ever been part of a team where it just felt like you never managed to get anything done? Where projects were endless and where week after week the motivation of the team members was decreasing? I have. More than once even: dysfunctional teams are more common than you think, both in small and large organisations. It leads to frustration, causes tension and decreases performance. Eventually everyone benefits from a team that functions well. But, to get teams to function, you first have to know why they don’t work. There are 5 primary reasons why teams fail.

#1 – Poor leadership

It’s easy to give the leader of the group the blame, isn’t it? But it does really start here. If the leader fails, the team will fail. It’s that simple. That is why football coaches often get fired when the team performance is disappointing. That is why research shows, time and again, that the manager can be an important reason why people change jobs. LinkedIn asked 10,000 people that recently quit a job, the reason why. At least 41% said leadership was the motive.

“Then we can just switch to autonomous teams, right?” is a question I regularly hear when I get asked by a company to help their teams function properly. Autonomous or self-steering teams are teams where there doesn’t appear to be a leader. But appearances are deceiving. Especially in autonomous teams there is a leader. But one that trusts team members to be independent.

Compare it to a bee colony. It really doesn’t function without the queen bee. Yet most bees fly in and out without saying where they are going. This is perfect leadership, the queen enables everyone to do his/her work. Good leadership is the basis for the proper functioning of a team and vice versa, failing leadership guarantees a team that does not work.

Tip! In this very inspirational video Simon Sinek shows why leadership that gives trust is so important.

 

Bonus: download my free workbook 5 steps to leadership that creates trust” I have created this workbook that I use weekly during leadership trajectories.

#2 – A lack of common interest

Not everyone comes to work with the same goal. For one person it’s about earning money, for the other it’s about developing themselves intellectually, whilst the third wants to feel useful. For most people, individual interests are easy to identify. It is the lack of common interest that causes teams to fail.

Although it is not necessary that all individual interests are the same, it is important that there is a shared goal that is worked towards. And yes, that is also a leader’s task: the creation and carrying out the vision, the “why are we doing this?”, so that everyone going in the same direction. However, this certainly does not mean ‘imposing’ the vision. In the 10 years that I have been assisting organisation, I have experienced that involving team members in determining the vision and common interest works really well. This creates support. Ultimately the leader is the one to make the final decision, but the common interest is decided on together.

By the way, individual interest is never put above the common interest in a properly functioning team. That leads to unhealthy competition (point 4 in this list!)

#3 – Avoidance

Doors Open Teambuilding en Coaching Den Haag

“What Sara just said was completely ridiculous, wasn’t it? She really doesn’t get it.” I heard two of my former colleagues talking about a team member after a team meeting. In these 14 words, 2 things went wrong:

  • There is no open communication with Sara. If you don’t tell Sara why you don’t agree with her, how is Sara supposed to know? I’m yet to meet a person who can read minds. We often keep our opinions to ourselves, out of fear that we will hurt someone, or because we are scared that the other person will get angry. But precisely by not giving feedback there are often larger conflicts in the long term that are more difficult to solve.
  • The feedback, even if Sara had heard it, is far from constructive. How would you feel is someone said to you: “What you just said is ridiculous. You really don’t get it.” If feedback is given (and received) in the right way, it is very valuable. Bad feedback or the lack of feedback, decreases individual as well as team performance.

Tip! Did you know that feedFORWARD is even more effective than feedBACK? I regularly go to companies to train teams about this topic and you often already see a change within 1 day.

 #4 – Competition

Environments with fierce competition create aggression, disfunction and waste. The best way to show this is in this video by Margaret Heffernan, where she takes you into the world of… chickens.

 

 

 

 

I am very much convinced, especially in the long term that fierce competition within teams does not lead to the best performance. Even though, according to research, Amazon is one of the best places to work, this article in the New York Times created some upheaval.  

Former employees at Amazon said the following:

“Work comes first, life comes second, and trying to find the balance comes last.”

“Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

“When you’re not able to able to give it your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness.”

#5 – Misunderstanding others

Carefully look at the image below. How many beams do you see?

Doors Open Teambuilding en coaching Den Haag

Within teams there is often little to no understanding of the perspective of others or their personalities. We are so focused on ourselves and believe our opinion and personalities to be the only truth. Through this we become blind to other perspectives or personalities. This doesn’t only lead to tunnel vision, which causes us to miss opportunities, it also causes misunderstandings and conflicts within a team. A well-functioning team is open to the perspective and behaviour of other team members and tries to understand why someone behaves in a certain way has that point of view.

In order to understand your team members better, a personality profile is an excellent starting point. I often use the Lumina Profile sketch during my training sessions or coaching programmes for teams. With this, you get more insight into your behaviour and your own personality. Improved insights into your own behaviour is essential in enabling you to better empathize with others.

Secret reason #6: Lack of attention

A good team is not formed from one day to the next. It takes time. And attention.

With the hustle of daily routine, building a strong team is often forgotten, even though that is the foundation for your organisation. Even if you have a team that DOES work well, it is important that it stays that way. Or even improves.

Could you use a sparring partner for your team? Do you want to create a strong team? Read more about what Doors Open can do for you.

TedTalks over Leiderschap - Doors Open training en coaching

One of my favourite hobbies on an evening off during the week or on a Sunday morning is watching Ted Talks. I find it one of the best sources of inspiration on topics that interest me. One of those topics is leadership. From all of the Ted Talks that I have seen, I have made a selection of 6 videos that, in my opinion, you should have seen if you are or want to be a leader.

1 – Drew Dudley: ‘Own your title’

A man wearing a funny hat explains leaderships with the principle of handing out lollies. This Ted Talk is only 6 minutes and 11 seconds and is, without a doubt, my number 1 favourite.

2 – Derek Sivers: ‘How to start a movement’

The original video ‘Dancing Guy’ that was shows at the Sasquath Music Festival in 2009 now has more than 14 million views on YouTube. Derek Sivers explains in just over 3 minutes, using this video, that change and movement starts with that first follower. Do you want to bring about change? Find your first follower, embrace him or her as partner and you are on your way to creating a movement.

3 – Simon Sinek: ‘Why good leaders make you feel safe’

With his inspiring approach, Simon Sinek shows why trust is the foundation of leadership. With bold statements like “Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank” and “Would anybody be offended if we gave a 150 million dollar bonus to Ghandi?” I can guarantee you that, just like me, you will watch this Ted Talk more than once.

 

 

 

 

I am so enthusiastic about this Ted Talk that I created a workbook: “ 5 steps to leadership that creates trust.”

4 – Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work

Margaret Heffernan explains why hierarchy is destructive rather than constructive. And she does this using… chickens. She shows how an environment with fierce competition (team, organisation or even society) creates aggression, dysfunction and waste. This at the expense of innovation and collaboration. Not something you want as a leader, right? Fortunately, Heffernan also gives insights into how it should be.

5 – Dan Pink: don’t assume money is the best motivator

A large part of the corporate world is built around the idea that employees perform better with financial incentives: bonuses, promotion, commission, shares. In a humorous way, yet backed up by research, Dan Pink shows how this does not work for a lot of jobs in the 21st century. In fact, with tasks that require creativity, problem solving and innovation, it can even be counterproductive and cause a decrease in performance. So what can you do as a leader to motivate people? Pink shares his thoughts on that too.

6 – Itay Talgam: Lead like the great conductors

A orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating harmony without saying a word. In this engaging Ted Talk, Italy Talgam shows the unique techniques of 6 of the most important and well-known conductors and uncovers crucial lessons for every leader.

 I am curious to hear what your favourite Ted Talk is about leadership. One of the six above? Or one that is not part of the list? Let me know in the comments.

Want to know more about leadership? Follow me on LinkedIn, I frequently share articles about this topic.