Virtual Team Building
tips for team building with virtual teams
So why do managers find leading Virtual Teams such a challenge? Virtual teams commonly face frustrations daily. Do any of these sound familiar to you? Dealing with confusion about projects among virtual team members; long, useless and tiresome meetings; endless back and forth emails; virtual team members not being accountable; a feeling of lack of support within the virtual team –especially with the team is operating from multiple locations across the globe.
According to Hassan Osman “The Couch Manager”, the #1 reason why managers fail at managing their virtual teams is ineffective communication. He explains that there is a false assumption that what is being communicated to your virtual team is being 100% understood by your team (when in fact, it’s mostly misunderstood or misconstrued).
So what can be done to improve the communication within your virtual team? Hassan assures us that virtual team effective communication is not about technology (90% of the time, the technology being used is more than enough to make managers succeed in their projects. The other good news – he says “effective communication is not about more meetings”. It’s all about establishing a clear communication plan. According to Hassan, who has worked with Fortune 500 companies, “a communication plan is the single best thing you can do with your virtual team to improve communication”
What to Include In a Virtual Team Communication Plan
- The communication plan should be in writing and posted as a living document in an online document management system or online team portal. The entire team should have access to the most up-to-date document at any given time. The level of detail will depend on the size of the team and the size of the project. Keep it high level and easy to read so that the virtual team actually reads it! .
- Explain Communication Preferences and Frequency – define the “rules of engagement”. How are you going to communicate internally within your team and externally with your customers? Include communication methods and preferred method of communication, spell out regular status meetings, describe stand reports and who is responsible for what.
- Define an Escalation Path – describe who and when someone needs to be contacted.
- Include a Project Organisational Chart – visual diagram explaining reporting structure and who is who within the virtual team
- Virtual Team Contact Information – record each individual’s contact details in one single place that the entire team can access LIVE. Include details like email, back-up email, phone, skype, timezone. Etc.
Hassan Osman, The Couch Manager further discusses methods to Effective Communication in Virtual Teams including …
• How To Conduct Highly Structured and Focused Virtual Team Meetings
• How to Use Technology and Email Effectively in Virtual Teams
• Access his 3 part video series here: www.thecouchmanager.com
1. Regular one-on-one Online Laser Virtual Team Meetings
It’s important to keep communication lines open in-between scheduled team meetings. Schedule REGULAR, short, one-on-one laser meetings (15 min max) with key team members. Encourage team members to communicate with each other directly via laser meetings also. Laser meetings are especially important when online team project tasks need to be handed over from one team member to another.
2. Virtual Team Feedback Friday
With an online team you don’t have the luxury of seeing how your team interact and communicate with each other in-person, face-to-face. Although virtual workers often work from remote offices, “office politics” will still occur (you don’t always see it because of the online team environment). Introduce a way for your team to provide real honest feedback regarding key issues, challenges, suggested improvements, communication issues etc. within the team. Issue them with an anonymous survey to complete and you’ll find out the true problems developing in the team. www.myvaspace.com offer a survey service for small online businesses. They will send out a survey and provide a weekly/monthly report for you based on the questions and responses.
3. Online Team Building Games
To build trust and improve team morale within your virtual team, arrange a session for fun online team building games. For some great online team building game ideas click here: Team Building Games For Virtual Teams
It’s important virtual team members have time to interact with each other at a social level. Open up your online meeting platform 10 minutes early and encourage team members to show up for chit-chat. Host an online happy hour, or coffee break. Quick digital team building activities can also be a great way to encourage your team members to get to know each other better.
5. Promote Health & Wellness in the Virtual Team
Virtual workers can spend long periods of time working on their bottoms. Encourage your team to stay healthy by introducing a wellness program. Think about how much time your team are sitting at their desks and encourage them to get up a move around regularly. Register with a wellness program that will work with your specific online team needs. If you don’t have the budget for a wellness program – then there are plenty of free online videos available that your virtual team can use and follow together.
6. Virtual Team Reward and Recognition Program
Virtual team members can at times feel unsupported, isolated and unrecognised. Make sure you remember to recognise the efforts of individual team members, no matter how far away they are located from the main office. A thank you note will be appreciated, as would receiving a surprise gift either in the “snail mail” or electronically. It’s a great idea to reward TEAMS as well as INDIVIDUALS.
7. Host Special Online Team Celebrations
Just because your team isn’t located in the same office at the same time doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate your online team successes. A celebration could be as simple as coming together online to acknowledge and celebrate team success or if you want to really party online try these suggestions Celebrate Your Success With Virtual Workers & Clients
8. Appoint a Virtual Team Champion
Your virtual team champion will be responsible for making sure these online team ideas are implemented in your day-to-day online team activities. It’s so easy to read a list of great ideas, only to go away and try them once or to forget about implementing them altogether. Appoint a virtual team champion for an assigned period of time and let them get creative in implementing your online team ideas.
10 Items to Include on your Virtual Team “Kick-Off” Meeting Agenda
When you bring your virtual team together for the first time, start off with a kick-off or project initiation meeting. If you don’t have the resources to bring your team together for an in-person, face-to-face meeting then host the kick-off meeting face-to-face via video conferencing.
Be enthusiastic, smile and make eye contact with your team. Let them see you in your online work environment. Host the online “kick-off “meeting with a video conferencing platform that allows all team members to interact and see each other face-to-face. Google Hangouts is an excellent platform for small to medium online businesses. Meeting, seeing each other and responding to the non-verbal communications via camera will help your online team to bond quicker.
Come prepared with an agenda and some virtual team ice-breakers to set the scene for your online kick-off meeting. Record the meeting so it can be saved and shared with new virtual team members as they come on board with the team at a later date.
Things to cover in your virtual team “kick-off “ meeting include …
- Team vision, goals and objectives.
- Virtual Team Introductions – Online Team Members and Stakeholders. Get creative and have fun with this one. If it is appropriate for your virtual team you could have each person prepare a 30-60sec video introduction of themselves to share with the rest of the team
- Clear outline of Virtual Team role expectations and lines of communications
- Discuss the virtual team diversity and the gains associated with the online team diversity
- Facilitate an open discussion about the unique challenges a virtual team faces working together and how to overcome the challenges. Encourage each virtual team member to contribute to the session. Ask them to share the challenges they have faced as a virtual team member and possible suggestions to overcome the challenges.
- Virtual Team Communication Standards. Communication needs special attention in a virtual team. Discuss solutions to time zone and language differences. Set response standards in place and be clear about expectations. When will the team meet? When will each team member be available online? What platforms will be used to communicate? Etc.
- Virtual Team Systems, Standards, Tools and Processes to be used in achieving the team goals. Document management, team collaboration tools and online systems need to be discussed here. You may want to give a brief overview at the meeting, then arrange a “virtual tour” of your systems and tools on a separate occasion based on the specific team needs. If you run the “virtual tour” live be sure to video the session and store in in your collaboration portal for others to access.
- Virtual Team Reward and Recognition Program. It’s easy for virtual workers to feel isolated and unsupported. Have a program place that rewards individuals and the virtual team as a whole for a job well done.
- Question & Answers
- Set the time for the next virtual team meeting. Regular, well planned and meaningful online meetings will work better than rare, long-winded marathon meetings.
Here is a simple and effective game that you can play online with your virtual team. Play it as a virtual team building activity to highlight the importance of communication within your virtual team or use it as a virtual team ice-breaker game. The game is called Broken Picture Telephone.
The game qualifies as an excellent virtual team building game for the following reasons …
- While having fun and playing together your virtual team will also be learning something about how they communicate with each other. The game is really a game that focuses on communication (or miscommunication). Playing this game shows the importance of clarifying our understanding of information that is communicated between virtual workers. It shows how easily miscommunication can happen (especially in the world of virtual teams).
- The game is fun; it encourages your virtual teams to connect and have a good laugh together – which in turn will help build stronger virtual team relationships.
- The game can be played online from anywhere in the world (obviously remote workers require internet access) there are no special downloads required and it’s totally free.
- This virtual game suits remote teams of various sizes and can be adapted to the amount of time you have to play the game.
How Your Virtual Team Can Play The Game …
- Broken Picture Telephone is a web game where your team can have fun while testing their artistic-interpretation skills. As highlighted on the BPT site … as you attempt to draw someone’s thoughts, or interpret their drawings you journey deep into the hilarious human psyche and the way we receive and interpret information
- Access the online game board here http://www.brokenpicturetelephone.com/#!Main
- You’ll need to register the virtual team members that will be participating in the game. Each user requires a username, password and email.
- Start a “Private” game for your own virtual team by clicking “Start a Game”. There you have the option to select how many rounds you want to play (this will determine the amount of time to play) and also gives you the option to select a private game. You can then select your virtual team members who will access the online board and participate in the game.
- The virtual team players should be online, ready to receive their invitation to the game. The first time you play, you should allow time for your team members to view the game instructions and watch the demonstration video.
- At the end of the game your team will enjoy looking at the results. They will see how differently we interpret and perceive information while having a great laugh together at the same time.
More fun virtual team building games and activities available here:
Have some fun with your virtual remote teams while helping them to develop better problem solving skills with this lateral thinking virtual team building activity. Note: This virtual team building activity can be adapted to the size of your virtual team, the amount of time you have available and the location of your various remote workers.
When preparing for the team building activity, consider these questions presented by Paul Sloane in his book The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlocking the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team. “How can you energize people to see problems not as obstacles to success but as opportunities for innovation? What practical techniques can you use in your everyday work to lead by example, to inspire and to motivate people around you to become more creative?”
Lateral Thinking Virtual Team Building Activity
- Select a suitable lateral thinking puzzle, challenge or problem for the virtual team to tackle. Paul Sloane, author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills: Unlocking the Creativity and Innovation in You and Your Team has some excellent lateral thinking puzzles along with the right advice on how to get the most out of the sessions with your team.
- Explain the purpose of the activity to the virtual team. You want this to be an opportunity for the team to interact together in a fun and creative way, while developing their lateral thinking skills. The ultimate goal is to help the virtual team to work together to achieve the very best solutions to problems as well as to achieve their goals in an inspiring and creative way.
Most virtual team workers I speak to dread showing up for virtual team meetings. Many remote workers are showing up for these meetings outside of usual work hours, perhaps taking time out from family and friends to meet with other team members across the globe. When they show up for these virtual meetings, they want to know that it’s not going to be a waste of their time. When they show up and the virtual team leader isn’t prepared for the meeting, when there is no direction or structure to the meeting and outcomes are never implemented – then pretty soon you’re going to have a very demotivated virtual team.
How do you keep your virtual team members showing up willingly and engaged in your virtual team meetings?
Planning and managing your virtual team meetings is absolutely imperative to your virtual team success. Tony Buzan, the creator of Mind Mapping shows how meetings can be managed using iMindMap to be more effective – saving time by helping team leaders reach decisions, record and implement team actions using colour and creativity.
Plan your virtual meeting agenda in advance
To keep your virtual team engaged and alert have your meeting agenda mapped out on screen. Get creative and use color coding to plan your agenda. By planning your agenda, you are giving your virtual meeting a clear focus, not only for yourself as the meeting leader, but for the attendees as well. With your agenda mapped out in front of you, it is more likely that your virtual meeting will stay on track (which can be a challenge for virtual teams meeting online from various locations all around the world). The radiant layout of a Mind Map gives you a pre-structured framework, allowing you to freely explore and capture your ideas without getting lost in the detail.
Keep your virtual team engaged in the meeting
There is nothing worse than showing up for a virtual meeting when the chairperson or virtual team leader is not motivated and prepared for the meeting. Remember, some of your virtual team workers may be linking in at very “ungodly” times due to timezone differences. You want all your virtual team members to want to show up for the virtual meeting, ready to contribute and ready to be engaged in the meeting. Make a Mind Map of what the meeting attendees need to prepare beforehand, and share it with them prior to the meeting. Mind Maps only include keywords, so the important ideas are conveyed and relevant associations occur instantly.
Keep track of implementation actions
During the virtual meeting, refer to the Mind Map agenda and simply build upon this to capture the minutes. This will give your meeting a solid framework you can refer to, to ensure that all points are covered. For every topic you discuss, add a branch for each action point to highlight what needs to be done to achieve the objective. Because of the radiating layout, you can keep adding details to your Mind Map without losing a coherent structure. Once you have added all of the details to your map, share it with the relevant parties to ensure that plans, decisions and actions are clearly communicated and acted upon.
Why Virtual Team Building Activities?
Small business owners are tapping into the benefits of a global talent pool. Just like big companies such as IBM, Pepsi, and Sony, small businesses are successfully running from remote locations all around the world. These businesses use virtual team building activities as a way to keep their teams feeling truly connected and united.
Are you running a small business from a virtual office? We’ll use the small business www.myvaspace.com as an example. Myvaspace provides online implementation services to e-marketing professionals. The main office is based in Australia. The business is supported remotely by a range of professionals located in Australia, UK, Malaysia, Vietnam and India. Clients are based in the UK, US, Australia and South Africa.
What can this business and other small global businesses (even those virtual small businesses) do to create a team atmosphere in an online environment where people may never have the opportunity to meet face-to-face?
Virtual Team Building Games
In addition to regularly using online communication technology, one way to build trust and create a close-knit working virtual environment is to introduce your team to virtual team building games. Virtual team building games will bring your team together ready to break down barriers and have fun! Continue reading
Most people working on virtual teams do not enjoy video conferencing. However, if you want to build trust in your virtual team you need to be using video conferencing on a regular basis to communicate. Web and video conferencing is an essential tool you need to use as an alternative to the face-to-face communication you would usually get in a typical work team working environment.
For your next virtual team building activity gather your virtual teams together online to watch Patrick Dixon’s video presentation “How (not) to do video calls: virtual teams management advice”. The video presentation is less than four minutes long, is highly entertaining, especially for virtual teams and is full of great advice to build trust, and confidence within your virtual team.
Topics covered in Patrick Dixon’s four minute clip that will help your virtual teams include …
- How to make your virtual team video conference dynamic
- What position or postures work best when communicating
- Why you absolutely must have eye contact when communicating with your virtual teams
How to conduct the virtual team building activity:
#1 Open up your online conferencing room and start the discussion by asking your virtual teams to talk honestly about how they feel about video conferencing, how often they video conference with other virtual team or remote team workers and how important they believe video conferencing is in developing trust across the virtual team. Continue reading
Creative virtual team leaders are coming up with new virtual team building ideas to encourage their remote workers to work more productively together, build trust, collaborate and develop a sense of identity as a collective group. Popular team building games can be easily adapted to become “Virtual Team Building Games”. Just by getting creative and using your every-day virtual collaboration technology you’ll be able to facilitate fun virtual team building games with your virtual employees and remote workers.
Business Management Quiz becomes Fun Online Virtual Team Building Game
Here is an idea of how a simple team building activity can be turned into a fun virtual team building game online. What’s more, it’s free! We are going to take a typical business quiz and turn it into a real virtual team building activity that will …
- Bring members of your virtual teams together in a fun and relaxed way
- Encourage virtual employees to connect more regularly using online collaboration tools
- Help your virtual team employees to learn more about working virtually, cultural differences and improve their overall business general knowledge
What’s great about this virtual team building activity is that it is so adaptable. The timing and quiz topic can be adapted to your specific virtual team dynamics and needs. Depending on what you would like your virtual team to “take-away” from the virtual team building activity you can adapt the timing, the team allocations and subject matter accordingly.
What you’ll need to play this virtual team building game … Continue reading
Why Is Trust In Virtual Teams So Important?
According to Dr Tom Wise, author of Trust in Virtual Teams “As projects become more complex and the project teams are more geographically and culturally dispersed, so strong, trusting relationships come to the fore. Trust provides the security that enables project teams to work together effectively, even when they face project-threatening problems and challenges.”
As a virtual team leader, building trust in your virtual team needs to be a specific item addressed as part of your overall virtual team building plan.
Building Communication and Trust In Global Virtual Teams
With the number of people working globally and the increase in virtual teams, so is the need for tools and resources to help virtual team leaders understand and build trust within their virtual teams. One challenge to overcome is building communication and trust in a virtual environment that does not allow for regular face-to-face meetings. Of course, where possible, when it comes to virtual team building, it is recommended members of a virtual team meet face-to-face at least once a year. However, what can virtual team leaders do if it isn’t possible? What can be done to build trust in virtual teams that do not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face?