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Killing a Virtual Team

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
-Babe Ruth

A colleague of ours is part of a virtual team spread across North America. This teams is, for the most part, successful. It uses online tools to communicate and is successful in the market place. However, it has one large blind spot – it’s annual face-to-face conference – is a waste of time and money. The key failings of the most recent annual meeting were:

  • More planning was put into the meals and team building fun night than for the meeting itself
  • The meeting agenda was not adhered to
  • Strong personalities took over the meeting and had a conversation between themselves
  • The leaders didn’t seem committed to the meeting – they kept coming and going

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that in 2009 more than 50% of the organizations it polled have virtual teams doing important work. The EIU also reports that “…good management is the not norm in virtual working.”

Have we forgotten how to behave when we are together? Do the disciplines of effective team performance escape when we are not used to being with each in the same room? Does multi-tasking become the default, distracting us from listening and contributing in a productive way?

Teams need to be self-aware and the leaders of virtual teams should be extra vigilant about their own behaviour and that of others so that all meetings are productive.

Here are some strategies for getting a virtual team back on track and more intentional:

  1. Be clear about the Return on Investment (ROI). Meetings are expensive. Why would you not consider the return that you get on the investment? Be clear about what the purpose of the meeting is, what the agenda will contain and how you will measure the outcome of the meeting.
  2. Hire a professional facilitator. Having a professional help you design and manage the meeting releases the team leader and members to get on and think about the content of the meeting. The facilitator will ensure you have a productive agenda laid out and will keep everyone engaged. The meeting will be more productive and focused.
  3. Separate social time from work time. The team’s meeting is a business meeting. It must be focused, professional and well managed. The social time can be whatever you want it to be, but don’t let it bleed into the business meeting.

We can help. Call us if your virtual team needs a refocus or if your processes are holding your team from performing at its best.

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