How to build a successful virtual team

Author Iris Clermont tells how you can build, trust and maximise your virtual team results.

Sharing motivation towards the goal is a key requirement to raise trust especially for virtual teams
How virtual teams have their common coffee breaks
How eye to eye contact happens in virtual teams
Managers and participants of virtual teams are facing special challenges, opportunities and chances compared to physical teams. Physical teams see each other face to face and they make regular eye contact with one another. Those are important fundamentals for human beings to build trust and to feel valued and part of a team, which is key to team success. Members and managers of virtual teams have the advantage of working in a special communication environment and this awareness can act as a driving motivation for the team. An increase of trust level and team results takes place for a virtual team, whenever paying attention to the diverse virtual communication options and whenever sharing motivation to the common goal. The easiest way forward is to put the real motivational drivers for the goal openly on the table right from the start of a project.
 Let’s have a look at a real quick win story from sharing motivation towards a common goal of a virtual team consisting of Jose from Spain, Mark from U.K. and Martin from Germany. All three are working in the same project for a telecommunication company based in Budapest. To introduce the characters of the involved project members, Jose wants to be involved in everything; he likes to talk and is new to the project. Martin is emotional, tends to keep information rather than spreading while Mark drives projects forward and works successfully together with Martin since years. Martin works as an external consultant and fears to be replaced by Jose for future projects. His hidden agenda is to avoid sharing his competence with Jose during the project with the intention to grant his services are required for the coming projects. The project started with a conference call between the three engineers. The kick off agenda below highly supported this virtual team to open up, to speak about their real driving topics and concerns which helps to raise the level of trust.

(What do I require from my team colleagues that support a better project outcome?) – All - 20 Min

During this kick off Jose shared his motivation and wish to learn from as well as to support the experienced team. He planned to learn for his coming management position starting directly after finishing with the project. This share of information and openness changed Martins ‘keeping information’ behaviour to an ‘open and sharing experiences’ behaviour which is a key win communication habit for virtual teams. Physical teams share their private stories and create a team feeling as well as a social embedding benefitting from common coffee or tea breaks. Those common coffee breaks help to gather people’s point of view, to feel as part of the team, raise the motivation and share experiences. How did Mark, Jose and Martin spend their virtual coffee breaks and gain from the common breaks? They called each other on Friday afternoon, just to exchange private stories about hobbies and weekend activities. Additionally they placed an informal once a week 10 minutes conference call, while relaxing with a cup of tea, water or coffee without any agenda and chatting about any topic coming up. While physical teams have the advantage to discuss with each other with eye to eye contact, the Budapest virtual team learnt from the experiences of blind people, who are more attentive on all other senses. They concentrated on the voices and found their own magical practise to cover the lack of eye to eye contact. Whenever they thought about, to call or not to call their colleagues, they decided to call and communicate with them. They exchanged on their weekly project call;

The management as well as the client called them ‘dream team’.  They won an innovation price at the end of the project. The positive effect of adding communication topics to the agenda is a clearing of the team atmosphere, an honest and open working environment right from the beginning.
This team motivation approach requires courage to step beyond the thinking of technical issues, adding extra 20 minutes to the existing agendas, spending time for virtual coffee breaks and virtual face to face meetings with the effect of minimising the risk of wasting time and motivation with hidden agendas and rumours, keeping information and helping to maximise team motivation as well as team results. The change of perspective from technical focus to the attention towards team motivation, communication and goals of virtual teams requires courage, stepping into new areas of experience. I wish you great success with your virtual team.

Iris Clermont is an international certified coach and process consultant, the author of the book ‘Team Magic’ and a single mother of three teenagers.  During the last 20 years, Iris Clermont has been travelling and working in 20 different countries around the world and working as part of a virtual team or performing team coaching, executive coaching and process consultancy as a combination, mainly in the telecommunications area for corporate companies. Further information can be found from her web page: www.aiccoaching.com