Virtual Teams that WorkWhat distinguishes virtual teams that are good at working together from those that aren't?
In a June 15 article posted at the MIT Sloan Management Review web site, Lynda Gratton, professor of management at London Business School, outlines ten principles that her research indicates effective virtual teams adhere to:
- Invest in an online resource that enables members to learn quickly about one another. For example, maintain an online directory that includes not only contact information, but also brief bios, areas of expertise, and personal interests of all team members.
- Choose a few (but not too many) team members who already know each other. With a few people already acquainted, networking that bonds the whole team can proceed more quickly than if everyone starts out as a stranger to everyone else.
- Identify "boundary spanners" and ensure that they make up at least 15% of the team. Boundary spanners are people with lots of useful connections outside the team. Note that you don't want too many boundary spanners since that is apt to detract from team cohesion.
- Cultivate boundary spanners as a regular part of companywide practices and process. This is because boundary spanners help not only the teams they're on, but also the company as a whole. In other words, it's smart to encourage employees to network.
- Break the team's work up into modules so that progress in one location is not overly dependent on progress in another. Modularizing can minimize the angst that arises when one part of the team has to wait for another part to complete a task
- Create an online site where a team can collaborate, exchange ideas, and inspire one another. A shared online workspace is pretty much de rigueur these days. Wikis and blogs are increasingly being adopted for this purpose.
- Encourage frequent communication; however, do not try to force social gatherings, e.g., early in the team's existence. Note that the second half of this rule is questioned by some with considerable experience on virtual teams. They say an early get-together is generally helpful for team-building.
- Assign only tasks that are challenging and interesting. "We found that one of the biggest reasons virtual teams fail is because the members don't find the work interesting. They simply fade away ... the atmosphere becomes more like a country club than a dynamic collection of inspired people."
- Ensure the team's task is meaningful to team members and to the company. "Ideally, a virtual team's mission should resonate with each member's values both as individuals and as professionals who want to develop their skills and be of clear importance to the company."
- When building a virtual team, draw upon volunteers as far as possible. Doing so enables you to tap the strength of intrinsic motivation.