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Five Ways to Create Successful Virtual Teams

By Rick Lepsinger and Darleen DeRosa Print this article Print

Many enterprises recycle the same guidelines they use for their co-located teams for their virtual teams and hope for the best. Frankly, that doesn’t work.

Today, many companies have nearly half of their employees working on virtual teams. Unfortunately, our research finds that many enterprises recycle the same guidelines they use for their co-located teams and hope for the best. Frankly, that doesn’t work.

To help organizations maximize their investment in virtual collaboration, OnPoint Consulting conducted a study of 48 virtual teams to understand the success factors of top-performing virtual teams. Below are five lessons—excerpted from our book, Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley, 2010)—for creating successful virtual teams.

Lesson No. 1: Focus on people issues. Virtual teams need to compensate for the lack of human contact. Look for warning signs that a team’s people issues need more attention: team members working independently or teams with an “us versus them” mentality between locations or subgroups, for example.

Lesson No. 1 in action:

•              Develop a team Web page to share information and build relationships.

•              Use real-time communication tools such as instant messaging or social media sites to create a virtual water cooler of sorts that enables spontaneous communication.

•              Send electronic newsletters or updates to the team.

•              Periodically collect feedback from various stakeholders to assess the team’s performance.

Lesson No. 2: No trust, no team. In virtual teams, trust develops more readily at the task level than at the interpersonal level. There are three warning signs that trust is in low supply in virtual teams: team members do not refer to themselves as “we”; they do not appear to know one another well; and they do not regard other team members as credible. 

Lesson No. 2 in action:

•              Make sure teams meet face to face at least once.

•              Avoid micromanaging and empower team members to make—and act on—decisions.

•              Help people manage conflicts rather than avoiding them.

•              Clearly define team roles and accountabilities to minimize frustration and misunderstandings that can damage morale.

This article was originally published on 2011-07-28
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