Virtual Teams

Virtual teams aren’t just normal teams plus technology

When we developed the world’s first remote and virtual teams training programme over 20 years ago we went right back to the fundamentals of collaboration and teamwork in designing a program that was “born
virtual”.

Even then it was clear that the nature of collaboration would change. For example, traditional teamwork requires synchronous discussions and high degrees of interdependence. To deliver this we need “live” meetings, calls or webinars and these are very hard to arrange and sustain in a global team.

Ask yourself two questions to illustrate this;

  • What is the best time for a global conference call?
  • If I wanted to schedule a call with all the members of your team to be available at the same time – how long would it take me?

As a result, we based our virtual teams’ programs around increased use of one-to-one and what we call “star group” hub and spoke working. This simple idea has had a huge impact on the tens of thousands of participants we have shared it with. By doing more work this way they have saved a lot of time and been able to focus their scarce synchronous time on those topics that really require interdependent working – this has led to fewer, shorter and much more engaging meetings, both face-to-face virtual.

I could go on to describe other fundamental changes that working virtually brings about in areas like how we build trust, creating participation online, coaching by telephone, exercising control and building visibility, networks and community.

It is concerning then, 20 years later, how many virtual teams training courses still recycle the old advice that teams are the answer to everything and more communication is always good. This just isn’t the reality for people in virtual teams who already are part of four or five teams and have too many meetings and far too many emails and other forms of poor quality communication.

Many virtual teams training programs seem to be recycling the content that training companies used to using different contexts. For example if your focus was on national culture then your virtual teams cost looks pretty much like a cultural programme plus a small section on technology. I saw a program recently which proposed that all virtual team issues were to do with emotional intelligence, plus a little bit on technology.

As a result of this many programs that are labelled “virtual teams” fails to deliver content that helps people who work virtually. We have spoken to a number of potential clients who tell us they “tried virtual teams training didn’t work”, it’s hard then to convince them that a program properly adapted to the virtual world can make an enormous difference to people’s productivity and engagement.

If you’re talking to a virtual teams training supplier make sure you ask them what’s different about virtual working – if the answer is just technology they probably haven’t thought it through.

You should be clearly able to see how they address what’s different about working across barriers of distance, culture and time zones (if appropriate), working through technology and an environment in which multiple reporting lines and multiple team membership is the norm.

If you would like to see how we address these issues, give us a call.

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