Video by Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration, an ideas, consulting and training company that specialises in people management in complex, matrixed, virtual and global organizations.
The following is an edited transcript for anyone unable to view the video:
Virtual Teams typically describe a situation where the team managers do not have direct line control over team members – for example cross-functional teams. But we can also talk about remote teams, where members are physically based in different locations and need to work together with less face-to-face interaction and more time working through technology.
At Global Integration, we also talk about matrix teams, where individuals have multiple bosses and may be working on several teams. And, of course, many of these teams operate internationally and so have the additional challenge of working across cultures.
Depending on your particular team, you could be managing across distance, cultures, time-zones, technology, and through complex, virtual and matrix organisation structures. So each virtual team can have a different blend of people management challenges and virtual team training should be tailored to the specific challenges that your team faces. It’s not just a traditional team building program with an extra slide on using email.
The reality is that business has become more complex, and the old, simple, vertical team structure doesn’t reflect how work is really done today.
We structure our virtual teams training around four Cs: co-operation, communication, control and community. Since we developed the first ever virtual teams training programme in 1994, we’ve delivered about 100,000 participant days of training in this area, and we’ve evolved the programme continuously with our clients who are over 300 of the world’s leading global companies..
The first ‘C’ is co-operation. In virtual teams, co-operation becomes much more complex and expensive. Virtual teams are more diverse and challenging to run. And we see a significant increase in what we call transaction costs. The obvious ones include travel costs. It can cost $50,000 to $100,000 to get an average international team face-to-face. But transaction costs can also include delay caused by time-zones, or the inconvenience of having to be available outside your normal working hours for that global conference call. Because of this, we need to be more selective about when and how we co-operate and use virtual teams. And we also need to find ways to reduce the cost of co-operation by using communication technologies.
(Global Integration has developed some practical tools to help teams streamline cooperation and speed up the delivery of virtual teams and projects by up to 25%.)
The second ‘C’ is communication. Our clients have a huge range of communication technologies. But actually, most suffer from too much communication, too many unnecessary meetings, conference calls and emails. Communication has also become quite passive: “Well, I sent you an email”, or, even worse: “Did you not see that message on the 70th page of the attached PowerPoint presentation?” Thatt’s not really communication, is it? Communication is about really making sure that your message has been received and understood.
We often work with virtual teams on how to choose and use their communication technologies appropriately, but also how to disconnect from unnecessary communication and make time to have real two-way conversations rather than just broadcasting information at each other. Participants use this to have fewer meetings, webinars, calls and emails and to make the remaining ones much more participative and engaging.
The third ‘C’ is about control, in particular finding the right balance between control and trust. In virtual teams, where we are working across distance, cultures, time-zones, technology and complex organisations, there are lots of small things that can undermine trust. And when trust is undermined, managers tend to increase control, to stay more involved in decisions, to increase their level of meetings reporting, etc. And this can cause delay, cost and dissatisfaction.
Participants can use these tools to build trust remotely and push control to lower levels in the organization, systematically build higher levels of capability and confidence, speed up decisions and delivery and counter micro-management.
And the final ‘C’ is community. In the past, communities were based on place. Today’s virtual teams may not ever meet, yet we still need to build trust and team spirit. So we help virtual teams understand what we call their keys to community, the practical techniques for building community, and also to understand what is realistic and affordable. In each case, we develop these skills through simulations, practical tools and exercises, so that participants can really apply the techniques to their virtual team reality.