Author Iris Clermont offers some tips for virtual teams to encourage the use of creativity, have more fun and achieve optimised results.
Working with virtual teams, the first and strongest demand I hear is always that they want more opportunities to meet face to face. In case there is no budget allocated for face to face team meetings, my work as a virtual team coach is to encourage participants to jump over the habit of complaining, to look for alternative, creative virtual, new practices. A proactive first step is to establish a common agreement.
Key requirements for virtual team agreements
- Use a team agreement including conflict and escalation handling in alignment with the organisation’s code of conduct.
- Be aware that conflict is a normal part of the team’s lifecycle and take care to focus conflict discussions on tasks and not on another person. Use the telephone and speak directly to the person. Go to the person first, not to the team leader or to another team member.
- Talk openly at the beginning, making agreements e.g. it is okay to say out loud: "I have the feeling not everyone is fully engaged in this call."
- Use a virtual map with a small story and a photograph how the world looks from the team's perspective.
- Collect the photographs of the various team members, put them together on one page and distribute them to the team members, as a visual reminder, who the people are on the call. This is very simple and effective.
- Use a virtual circle. Distribute the circle including the names to the whole team. This helps during call conferences to hand out e.g. to the person to the left and supports people knowing and visualizing when they are next to speak.
- Agree to call your key contacts in between the regular conferences to speak about the main goals, how to support each other and about best practices.
Sharing expectations right at the start of a project
The second step, to share expectations and commitments, supports virtual team members to feel valued and to add value according to their individual strengths. At the start of a project, invest time to share:
- Why each participant has joined the project?
- What they want to get out of it?
- What they think they can contribute, what are their top two strengths?
- What are their main values and where are their boundaries? What are they not willing to accept?
- Clarify their roles and responsibilities.
- Speak openly about cultural, gender, educational and generation differences inside your team.
These steps will support everybody in getting on to the same page. It will also help avoid conflicts and raise the trust for virtual teams.
Celebrate virtual team success
A third key element to stay on the top wave of virtual team success is to celebrate successes virtually. When did you last celebrate a team success and how? Please feel free to share your way of virtual celebrations with us in the article comments so we all can learn from each other and get more ideas to improve our way of working. Some ideas include:
- Take time for a celebration virtual team call where the only rule is to relax, have fun, mix your favorite drink, tell jokes, funny stories, listen to music.
- Enjoy virtual team-building exercises. For example, create a common story or let your team members know how they supported you and what they are best at.
- Invite a comedian to your virtual conference session and enjoy the laughter.
- Acknowledge each of your team members.
- Have an active listening round in which each team member can speak as long as he or she wants and gets the full attention of the whole team.
- Share your thoughts about: What do you think is special about being part of a virtual team? What do you like to be part of this team?
I may have never met my virtual colleagues from the UK, Italy, Denmark or Poland just by chance, like my neighbours do, who work around the corner. Instead whenever I am with a client I am aware that each virtual team member has added his or her strengths strengths and experience to the project. This makes me feel different, unique and connected as well as supported on a daily basis.
I wish you great success and fun with your virtual team, time to listen actively to each other, time to celebrate your successes, time to relax, time to smile, time to acknowledge your colleagues, time for new ideas, the courage to be different, to speak out loud what you see, what you hear, what you think and where your borderlines are.
Iris Clermont is an international certified coach and process consultant and the author of Team Magic. During the last 20 years, Iris has worked in 20 different either as part of a virtual team or performing team coaching, executive coaching and process consultanc. Find out more at: www.aiccoaching.com.