Virtual teams are often characterised by a lack of face to face time and an increased amount of communication through technology.
This places an additional burden on individuals to learn a wider range of communication technologies.
First they need to master the technologies themselves, a relatively simple task (you can learn all you need to know about how web meetings work in 30 minutes) but one that is often neglected. In our workshops, when we ask people who has actually been trained in the communications technologies they use regularly, it is usually less than 20% who have had any formal instruction.
At this stage individuals have very different appetites and interests in adopting, or rejecting new tools as they come along. Some are early adopters, some technophobes.
Next, they have to incorporate these tools into their team way of working, to develop etiquettes on how they will be used, to choose and use the right technology for the right task, and to adopt effective guidelines on use of these technologies. Few organizations are good at this and most teams tend to work this out for themselves by trial and error, creating a difficult learning process for people on multiple teams.
At this stage there is often a conflict between individual preferences in communications tools and style, and the need for a common platform, accepted set of tools and approach to communication. The technophobe can hold everyone back, the early adopter can irritate others with their evangelism.
And finally, they need to learn how to create participation and engagement when communicating through technology, a skill that is still rare. When we run highly participative webinars even the people who developed the tool are surprised by what we can achieve, the skillset of an IT developer is rarely the same as the skill of online facilitation and engagement.
At this stage we require individuals to go beyond the technologies and find new ways to engage their colleagues. This takes time, thought and a comfort with the technology.
So at every stage, we rely on an individual’s willingness to adopt technologies, incorporate them into their way of working and find new ways to engage and connect. We each know from our personal experience that individuals vary hugely in their ability and willingness to do this.
We should of course be wary of jumping on every new communications tool that comes along, and think carefully about how they fit into our communication needs. But we also need to pick up tools that can really help our virtual teams quickly, social media being a current example that could have powerful applications to global virtual teams. (I discuss in my new book “Making the Matrix Work”)
Communication though technology is a permanent part of virtual team working. We have to master the tools and the ways of working involved. Unless we overcome the technology barrier, it will be an impediment to communication for ever.
A note to the technophobe: individuals unable or unwilling to adapt their skills to communicate through technology will become increasingly poor bets for virtual team membership in the future.
- Contact us at Global Integration to find out more at how we train people to choose and use the right technology for the right task, develop effective etiquettes and create engagement and participation online. (There’s a handy form to the right of this page on most devices.)
- Find out more about virtual teams training.