“Virtual Teams” are the future…How to keep them on track !

virtualteam3It is said that “Virtual Teams are the Future“. With gas prices soaring and the economy in a slump – it is critical for organizations to take advantage of the best talent “where they are at” and not limit their resources to local ones only. If you could leverage an excellent DBA from Oklahoma, a Developer from Alabama, a PM from California, etc…. — then you could form teams of the “best people” possible.   Why would you not want to do that?

If you are worried about keeping them on-track, then you need to understand that virtual teams will more frequently have relationship problems that can derail things. Problems with remote colleagues are significantly more difficult to solve and last longer than those with on-site colleagues.   They will either ignore the person, gossip about them, or criticize them…destroying productivity if not dealt with.

What’s the solution?

– it’s all about communication !!!

Isn’t that the truth ! – and isn’t this a common Interview Question heard… “How do you deal with those difficult people?”

As Project Managers – we own the health of the team. Yes, Managers need to understand and support virtual team challenges – since the benefits outweigh the problems – so I want to help empower PM’s to improve their social skills and learn how to deal with people issues. This common problem is easy to head off and deal with if you know some tools to use.  But you might ask

Why must I deal with this?

Your situation won’t get better; left unaddressed, it usually gets worse.

A recent article by Management-Issue talked about some tips in crucial communication, in brief they were:

  1. Talk before problems start and Establishing ground rules for airing future concerns. Do this at the project kickoff meeting.
  2. Praise early wins – acknowledge small successes “publicly”. You are rewarding good behavior !
  3. Never raise individual concerns publicly. Do it 1-on-1 privately.
  4. Start by clarifying what you DON’T want to say. Point out any possible misinterpretations of what you want to discuss before saying what you DO want to accomplish.
  5. Gain allies before raising problems with a group. Get a perspective from others by talking to teammates 1-on-1 (and verify problem is real)

I would also add that you need to….

  1. Be calm – Anger will bread more Anger
  2. Keep your ego out of it – don’t react, respond instead – everyone is entitled to their opinions, so allow them to express theirs. Not everyone is good about expressing themselves, they can even be offensive — we need to choose to choose peace making.
  3. Seek 1st to Understand – people are usually not difficult for the sake of being difficult (are they?) Identify their trigger in making them react in this manner. If you know this you can meet their needs & resolve the situation.
  4. Build a rapport – connect with your teammates on a personal level from the start (don’t just email them – talk to them) Yes this takes time, but it will break down barriers more than you know.
  5. Escalate to higher authority – PM’s must know when to do this – it should be a last resort. It is your job to resolve things. After trying everything you know first, and it doesn’t work – then escalate to a manager.

Try it – Practice it —- You will improve !!!

I’d love your feedback on my article.  Please take a minute to share your thoughts below — all input is welcome