21 Aug Making and Sustaining Real Connections in Virtual Teams
Our research on Leading Virtual Teams has prompted a great deal of debate and got us thinking. Why is it that some virtual team members feel isolated and yet others do seem very much connected both to their colleagues and their team purpose?
We heard about a global team in which the U.S. and Indian colleagues were having real problems gelling with each other. Discussions were wooden and people seemed reluctant to share information openly. It was only when during a video conferencing meeting that one of the Americans enquired about the food they could see on the table in Kolkata (it did not look like typical breakfast fare to them), that the conversation started to flow and relationships began to develop.
But what if you can’t see your colleagues? How can you replicate this sense of connection in the virtual space?
In our view, in order for engagement and trust to build there invariably needs to be a sense that one is cared for and that one belongs. If we are going to feel motivated to go the extra mile we need to feel that we matter, that others are interested, at least to some degree, in us as individual people with personalities and lives of our own, not just as team members with jobs to do.
What could we do outside of the team meeting, in the ‘asynchronous’ space, to increase the chances of our people feeling engaged and connected to team purpose? What rituals could we introduce at the beginning and ends of virtual meetings to improve relationships?
What questions might we need to ask to get a really good understanding of the context in which our colleagues are operating?
When feel resistance from our colleagues across the globe to meet deadlines, how quick are we to assume lack of motivation on their part, rather than looking to ourselves for a solution? If we have not taken the time to find out what is really going on for them, both personally and culturally, it will be difficult to build trust. ‘Going the extra mile’ can be as simple as gently enquiring about a colleague’s family. We recently completed an intense programme of study in the virtual space. We had never met face to face but the time invested in each telephone conference call checking in with each other paid huge dividends towards the end of the course in the team presentations. We felt we knew each other and the trust and collaboration was high.
Of course working virtually presents challenges, especially when there is so much pressure to ignore the social interactions and go straight to task. However the world is changing, and we need to find new ways to connect if we are to hold onto our talent and work effectively in this ever more globalized environment. What will you do differently?
Clare McNamara and Monica Garcia-Romero are experienced Global Executive Coaches and each own their own coaching practices. They are passionate about virtual teams and will be leading a workshop on the subject at the Global WIN Conference in Prague in October 2013.
©Global Team Coaches 2013
 We define a virtual team as a group of people who work to achieve a shared goal, usually geographically dispersed, often working across different time-zones, generally culturally diverse and who rarely or never meet face to face.