Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration, explores the requirements of virtual team training in this seven minute video. Following is the commentary from the video. We hope you enjoy it.
Since we developed the world’s first virtual teams training program over 20 years ago, virtual teams training has become mainstream. Most people who offer training in face-to-face teamwork will now also offer a virtual option. Many providers offer a “one size fits all” solution, but in reality virtual teams come in a whole range of types, each with distinct skill needs and different ways of working.
- Remote teams: have members who are physically separated. The skills here include the ability to create communication and engagement through technology, and to build trust, relationships and visibility when working remotely.
- Matrix teams: work across different functions and members typically report to different bosses. Here cross functional working, accountability without control and multiple bosses are the norm.
- Virtual reporting team members work on multiple teams with several dotted line or influencing relationships. Here we need to learn the skills of multiple team membership and how to get things done through influence without authority.
- Global or International teams: face the additional complexities of working together across different national cultures and time zones.
- And finally, Extended teams: can include customers, suppliers, outsourcing providers or other external partners. As well as all the other challenges of virtual team working here we also have to take into account different corporate cultures and commercial considerations.
Many virtual teams in real life of course, have a mixture of these challenges so your virtual team training needs to reflect the complexity of your particular context. It’s easy to see that the needs of a global, matrixed team including customer representatives will be very different from one where people from the same function and organization work together remotely within a single country. Because of this, virtual teams training needs to be tailored to the needs of the specific team or organization. This doesn’t need to be a long process if you work with someone who has capability in all of these areas, but beware of standard solutions.
Virtual team training is also not just an old fashioned face to face team training program plus a short session on using communication technologies. When you get to this level of complexity, the rules of leadership and collaboration do change. As an example, many traditional programs assume that teamwork is the answer to everything. In working with complex global virtual teams, teamwork is one of the most complex ways of getting things done.
True teamwork requires synchronous working – that is for people to be available at the same time, if not in the same place. This can be difficult to achieve across time zones, and can be very expensive if you require face-to-face meetings. As a result, one of the most positive things we can do with virtual teams is to be really clear where they don’t need to be a team in order to cooperate, and where empowered individuals or sub teams can carry out the work.
As another example, in matrix teams, having multiple bosses means that competing goals and controls can be a challenge, this can lead to unnecessary micromanagement and lack of trust. In most virtual teams, communicating through technology is the norm and we need to build the skills to both use the technology and to create engaging and participative online meetings and other forms of communication.
Virtual team working is not just business as usual. It requires a significant change in the way we lead people and cooperate with colleagues, for example, the lack of face-to-face contact has major implications for trust, communication and relationship building. Is not enough just to train an individual, or even members of an intact team in the skills and tools needed for virtual team success; we also need to embed the new ways of working collectively by systematic changing our habits and practices.
A simple example is virtual meetings. To really embed effective virtual meeting practices of course we need to build the skills, but we also need to make sure people are trained in the communications technologies they use and that they have the ability to use these tools to create an engaging and participative meeting climate. We need to be clear how to run effective virtual meetings and adapt our routine meeting agendas and practices to match. We also need to change the way we manage things like visibility and networking, which often happen for free in traditional face-to-face meetings.
This sounds like a fairly simple example, but it’s extremely hard to change meeting behaviors systematically. Many of our larger clients spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on travel and hundreds of millions more on unnecessary meetings. They know how to run great meetings in theory, but in reality meetings are poor.
Success is not about what we know but about what we do in practice every day. Making a systematic change in our ways of working across our managerial and professional populations is a major change project with significant business returns.
If you’d like to find out more about how to change both the individual skills and the collective ways of working of people in your virtual teams, please get in touch and speak to one of our specialists.