6 Key ingredients to optimize your virtual team

by Sylvie Edwards

Virtual work is almost the norm nowadays. It has become rare that a team will be collocated into its own space for a project. How can anyone set up a virtual team for success?

We have over the last ten or so years moved into shorter project work cycles all the while trying to maximize our resources; which can literally be located globally and definitely not in the same office building. It has been with this strategy of leveraging key global talent that a lot of organizations have managed to stay on top of their growing project portfolios.

It is so easy to say, let’s work virtually, but it is quite another thing to make it work effectively. It is not rare in companies that have not put some thought into this to have less than favorable outcomes. It actually takes a strategy to get developed in a way that will support your virtual work efforts.

What should one focus on to ensure success?

There are quite a number of items that need to be addressed, but in my experience with virtual teams, there are at least six key elements that will contribute to a virtual team’s success. Let’s discuss these components so that the next time you want to set up a virtual team or improve one’s performance, you can have a checklist to focus on.

 1. Team dynamics: Not you’re same old, same old

When it comes to team dynamics, the change from a face-to-face working team to a virtual one can be dramatic. Not everyone can and will transfer seamlessly into a virtual work environment.

Things become just a bit more complicated and often require extra work to get things done. The best solution to this is to establish regular work patterns to what people would do together. For example, status meetings are held on Thursdays at 1 p.m. By having established patterns to support some processes, it helps bring people together – then there are fewer chances of getting lost.

2. Defined roles and responsibilities

When time is of the essence, which happens daily on some projects, the last thing you want is a virtual team dispersed all over the globe not knowing who’s doing what. People at all times need to clearly be able to link who is doing what on the project so that it helps in pinpointing help or support faster.

One of the first orders of business in setting up a proper virtual team is to define each person’s role and responsibilities clearly. This will need to be communicated to the whole team to speed up the process when queries or issues come up. A good leader will establish a team directory with roles clearly defined as well as contact information for each team member. A small hint here: if you have time zones involved put down some markers for people to understand the timing differences they might face when trying to reach someone.

3. Effective leadership: Be an involved leader

As a leader of a virtual team, you cannot merely stand on the sidelines, give out orders, and let it all happen. Your team will need your guidance more than ever. You will need to be the glue to support and link them all. You will have to pull out all of your skills towards supporting, paving the way, and making roadblocks disappear. Being an involved and effective leader will also be really rewarding to you as the PM.

4. Trust factor: Establish an environment built on a strong trust foundation

Linked to having the need for a leader is the need to have a strong foundation based on trust. Each team member needs to believe, for this to work, that they can trust you as their leader, that you trust them to do the work, and that they trust each other as a team to bring it all together.

This can be difficult to achieve. You all need to be given space to do what needs to be done, but it also requires the right amount of tracking and control to ensure that one link does not destroy the whole chain.

5. Commitment to performance: Ensure that you check on engagement and team buy-in

If all the other items are in place, chances are your team will want to work and will see the value of being engaged. You cannot take it for granted, people will need to feel as if they are part of a team. You will need to reinforce appreciation consistently. A happy team member goes a long way when it comes to being committed to the project and the performance required for delivery.

6. Effective communications

None of the items we have discussed so far would be possible without a strong commitment to establishing the proper communications channels to support it all.

Nowadays, with access to a variety of stronger tools in this area, it has become easier to establish bonds via our communication lines. Gone are the days of “staticky” conference calls, with the better use of video conferencing, webchats, and more, we establish better, more personal points of connection. Helping the team feel as if they are an actual team but from a distance.

Regardless of time and distance, it is possible to get a virtual team established and thriving while working to deliver on a project. Such a team can produce as much and as well as any team that is collocated.

It will take some work on everyone’s part, and might need to be fine-tuned as we go along, but once it is set in motion, it will provide your organization a lean, mean project delivery machine.


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