Virtual Teamwork Development

How to develop synergy and teamwork when team Members are dispersed in different locations, countries...?
Developing a high performing « Virtual » team.

To develop teamwork effectiveness in a "Virtual Team", the techniques, processes, concepts, facilitation and tools used are different.

In a "concrete" team :

Members have one geographical area to share (office, laboratory, building, or set of buildings in one town), they see each others regularly, information may be exchanged through verbal and non verbal communication, one language is adopted as working language, the group shares some norms, values and a culture, the boss is identified, and rewards will come from him or her alone.
Cooperation is easy, and lack of cooperation will negatively and rapidly affect efficiency. Most members belong to an identified structure. The team has an history and probably a future, and members want to be part of it.

In a "virtual" team :

Members of virtual team or project do not share one geographical area, but several, spread in more than one country. Members do not see each others, or very seldom, and they cannot communicate verbally or non verbally often enough. Non verbal communications may even create ambiguity. Lack of cooperation will also affect efficiency, but with much less visibility. There are as many working languages as geographical places, and the virtual team communicates in English most of the time, however English may not be the mother tong of the majority of members.
The values and culture come from the Head Quarters of the company and may not mean much to most members.
The team members have more than one Managers, and recognition will come from the local Leader more than from the "project team Leader" who might be remotely located.
Virtual team Managers will also, in a way, have to fight for there own existence and recognition. Most virtual team members will not be rewarded for their contributions to the virtual team success but for their local team success contribution. In an ideal world, Managers will make sure that their Employees, involved in someone else project team, will be rewarded for their participation in that project: However, most of the time, Employees will be only measured on their local achievements and not on their contribution to a remote network of project members.
As a team member of a virtual team, why would I cooperate with members I do not see? Why would I take risk for little recognition and promotion?

So, the major criteria for "virtual teamwork" success are :

  1. Establishing a clear and quite rigid working process adopted by all
  2. >Creating a new form of communication based on innovations, provocative ideas, views of what future will look like, risk taking, "new age" ambiance, etc...
  3. Making sure that nobody will ever reject anybody's idea or solution
  4. Finding reasons for each members to cooperate with remote members
  5. Giving the group the possibility to invent its own culture and norms, its own values, even if different from the Head Quarters' norms
  6. Creating very strong emotional links between members at the beginning
  7. Making sure that those links are maintained through exchanges of pictures, gifts, news, personal interests, shared hobbies, attractive mission statement for the team (more attractive than in any other regular team!)
  8. Sharing strengths and weakness' will allow task distribution and effectiveness, thus easy recognition from other members
  9. Virtual teams may have a short life time, so big successes should be achieved soon enough
  10. Sharing the same expertise will help in having one language in common

Typical agenda for a session :

Facilitating a Teambuilding session with a virtual team is different: It must be an unforgettable experience, a constructive discovery of the other members, a privileged moment of sharing at a high level.
Most sessions may include the following elements :

Before the session

CSI Consultants will interview each member, by telephone, to collect information on mission statement, current issues & problems, hopes and wishes from each individual, feedback on Management issues, communication needs, level of cooperation, project content, etc...
A synthesis will be made (while keeping confidentiality), discussed with Management, and will be used to build the session. Each session will be unique.

First day morning

Capitalizing on cultural differences
Removing stereotyping
Creating a platform for communication mostly based on verbal or electronic exchanges
Finding reasons to help the others

Individual profiles and feedback on perceptions
Mix of personalities
Expected dynamics
Current competencies
How to use competencies more effectively
How to benefit from different personality types
Sharing personal history, likes and dislikes, interests, hopes, visions

First day afternoon

Define "innovation" as a basis for problem solving
Favor creativity and those attitudes that permit creative exploration
Share a common process for invention, problem solving, conflict handling

Define the requested roles and responsibilities
Make sure the responsibilities are distributed according to competencies, personalities, knowledge and hopes of individuals
Sort out and solve redundancies
Sort missing elements and solve

Invent group culture, values, norms and act according to them
Inform Head Quarters and ask for support
Create logo, language, mission, identity

Second day morning: special workshop

Participants will participate in a challenging workshop
Sharing successes and failures
Sharing strengths and weaknesses
Sharing interpersonal issues and solving all of them

Second day afternoon

Video review

The group will plan regular key events to make sure the links will be maintained. The events have to be invented, taking in consideration the nature of the team, the distance, the culture, the expertise, etc... Most events will be "virtual", but should be designed by the group and should be attractive and challenging.
Members should plan to communicate on a regular basis, even without business reasons: so, when information are needed, the network will be operational.

End of second day, follow-up issues, debrief and end of session