How To Manage Highly Productive Virtual Teams

How To Manage Highly Productive Virtual Teams

Even though I have been living and working in different countries, and managing global teams virtually since 2009, I still have to pinch myself from time to time and reaffirm my gratitude for the technologies that allow me to perform my work and coach clients no matter where in the world I am located.

Research has shown that virtual teams can outperform local teams, provided they are set up and managed in the right way. You can’t just assemble a dispersed team of talented people and hope for the best.

A few years ago, these types of working relationships would have seemed strange, but thanks to good broadband connections, web conferencing, and collaboration tools, this style of working feels very normal to me. In fact, I prefer it.

More and more companies are forming virtual teams with staff (and external contractors) from different geographic locations to collaborate on projects. Some of these teams last only for the duration of the project, while others are more permanent in nature.

More recently, the Coronavirus outbreak forced many companies to operate virtually, whether they wanted to or not.

The notion of office staff being forced to work out of the same office and to work the same business hours makes less and less sense, and the future implications for office space requirements and working environments are profound.

Advantages of working face to face.

  • Frequent face to face communication helps to strengthen social bonds and build trust
  • You can directly observe the body language and emotional state of your colleagues to foster more empathy and understanding
  • You can more easily apply peer pressure to create conformity of behaviors

Advantages of virtual teams.

  • You can assemble people with the best expertise for the job, regardless of where in the world they are located.
  • Geographically dispersed teams tend to have different opinions and are less inhibited in expressing them. This reduces the danger of “groupthink” (where everyone thinks alike). This variety of opinions creates productive conflict, which leads to higher-quality problem solving and decision making
  • Reduced costs (office space requirements are reduced, and people in other geographies may have a different cost of living in terms of their salary requirements)
  • Reduced concerns about disease transmission (Coronavirus etc)

Lessons from (more than) 10 years of running highly productive virtual teams:

  • Create and foster Core Values that define your “global culture”, and create a sense of belonging to the virtual team, not just the local office
  • Involve all key functional areas in strategic planning to create a shared commitment to team goals
  • Adopt a company-wide strategy execution framework so that everyone is using the same language and methodology
  • Use a software dashboard to make performance visible and keep people focused and aligned on your strategic projects (Big Rocks) and metrics (KPIs)
  • Use online chat platforms for communication, and encourage everyone to post their “One Thing” (#1 priority) for the day, as well as any obstacles they may be experiencing to create a shared consciousness of what is going on throughout the organization. Here’s how to run a virtual, asynchronous “Daily Huddle
  • Once per week, encourage people to share personal communications as well, e.g. “What did you do last weekend?” to foster long-distance relationships and appreciation of cultural differences
  • Leaders need to “over-communicate” to their teams about what is going on and what their thoughts are. A useful rule of thumb I share with client CEOs is, “When you are sick of repeating yourself, your people are just hearing it for the first time.”
  • Set up a disciplined weekly meeting cadence to review Goal performance, agree on next steps, and assign Tasks
  • Hold each team member firmly accountable for progress and results. You need to “weed the garden” every week
  • Celebrate the small wins every step of the way, with praise and acknowledgment. Here’s how to praise people the right way
  • Create your own “User Manual” to clarify and communicate your personal expectations and preferred working environment with team members

You could argue that managers should practice these same things with your traditional face to face teams too, and I fully agree with you. But I would add that managing virtual teams actually forces you to adopt better management disciplines, and doing so will help everyone on your team to be more focused and productive.

For more information on this topic, check out my article on Virtual Decision Making


Until next time…