Leading a virtual team is challenging – geographic distance, communication using technology, building trust for collaboration, cultural differences, competing priorities and local distractions are just a few of the headaches virtual teams encounter. Working on these issues as a team can have a beneficial impact and accelerate the team development process. Now I offer two tools to help a virtual team identify issues, discuss underlying causes and agree on solutions.
The tools are Virtual Performance Assessment and Connection Scan and both are helpful during the development journey of the virtual team. Each tool can be used effectively on its own, or in combination, to accelerate collaboration and performance.
Imagine the following: You have a virtual team which is struggling – communication problems, delays, lack of attendance in meetings, low information sharing, etc. Or your team is doing well, and with your focus on continuous improvement you see an opportunity for a step-change in growth. In either scenario, what do you do? Which area should you focus on, where is the gap? The Virtual Performance Assessment can help identify the key gap areas for the team on 20 dimensions. These dimensions are critical for virtual teams and include topics such as workflow integration, global netiquette skills, quality of relationships, time in shared dialogue, communications skills and shared leadership.
Using the tool: Each team member completes an online survey of 40 questions (approximately 30 minutes). The data, summarized on team or subteam level, is shared during a virtual or onsite team session. For example, the summary of the VPA for a virtual team had low measures on Time in Shared Dialogue, Feedback Competence and Communication Styles, although Media Competence and Information Sharing were high. As we investigated this more, we found the team members wanted more contact, but did not feel enough personal connection with their colleagues in other locations. With this in mind, we designed virtual team building exercises, and adapted the workflow to encourage more contact moments. Overtime, the team spirit and results improved.
Hot, Warm and Cold – Connection Scan
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is true of Connection Scan, a tool which gives a visual on how well team members perceive they are connected with each other. The Connection Scan is based on an MIT study which concluded high performance teams are not the ones with the smartest people, but with the most energizing and engaging communications between team members. Often effective communication is listed as a hurdle when collaborating with remote colleagues. With the Connection Scan we can measure energy and engagement on the virtual team and make changes to improve the communication dynamics.
For example, often multi-country virtual teams suffer from lack of transactive memory, meaning team members do not know the strengths and knowledge of each person on the team. This could be due to lack of working history together, not knowing each other’s context, different education systems in each country which leads to confusion, etc. Through color coding and underlying data, the Connection-Scan highlights which team members are sharing information (red means frequent), and which people are untapped knowledge contributors (blue means infrequent). Through discussion we may learn the reason could be a simple technical or process issue (“I don’t know how to use the tools”), or something more interpersonal and complex. The team can finally address the underlying issues.
Using the tool: Each person completes a survey of 4-6 questions about each team member, so the time commitment depends on number of questions and team members. The resulting visuals provide information on different levels with different angles. For a virtual team, this can be eye-opening.