How to get connected: building better virtual teams

In today’s interconnected world, businesses are increasingly relying on virtual teams to carry out projects that span across time zones and continents. Here, Jenni Miller and Alison Grieve identify four vital areas for managers to focus on

While the benefits of virtual global teams are clear, they also present unique challenges when it comes to building strong connections and fostering collaboration. Trust, quality of communication, effective tools and embracing differences can all help organisations bridge the gap and build better connections among their teams.

  • Trust: bridging the virtual gap

Trust is the foundation upon which all successful teams are built. In the virtual world, establishing trust may seem challenging as it lacks the face-to-face interactions that come naturally in a physical office. However, it’s far from impossible. Here’s how you can nurture trust among your virtual global team.

Whenever possible, encourage team members to turn on their cameras during virtual meetings. A blank screen with an impersonal voice does little to develop trust. Seeing one another’s faces fosters a sense of connection and humanises interactions, making it easier to build trust.

Establish clear expectations for behaviour during virtual meetings. Encourage active participation, listening and respectful communication. Ensure that team members have regular opportunities to spend time with each other in meetings that allow for conversations which go beyond the task at hand to other topics. These behaviours create a positive environment that supports trust-building.

Ask team members to minimise distractions during meetings. This includes muting notifications, finding a quiet workspace and actively participating in discussions. Minimising distractions helps create an atmosphere of professionalism and respect, which increases trust.

  • Quality of communication: mastering the formula

Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful team. In a virtual global setting, where team members may be dispersed across different time zones, it’s essential to create routines and practices that facilitate effective communication.

Establish communication routines that work for your team. While structure is important, avoid making meetings overly formulaic. Monotonous meetings can lead to disengagement and hinder effective communication.

Encourage variety in your communication methods. Don’t rely solely on emails. Incorporate video, instant messaging and collaborative methods to keep communication fresh, personal and engaging.

Go beyond the task at hand during meetings. Allocate time for casual conversations, allowing team members to share how they’re feeling or discuss their weekend plans. Building personal connections fosters trust and belonging.

  • Effective tools: enhancing efficiency

The right technology and tools can either facilitate or hinder the connections within a virtual global team. Agree on the tools your team will use for specific purposes, such as project management, document sharing and communication. Having a clear set of tools and guidelines ensures everyone is on the same page.

Establish expectations regarding how these tools should be used. For instance, define best practices for document version control or response times in messaging platforms. Since technology evolves rapidly, regularly evaluate the tools and platforms you use to see if there are better alternatives available. Embrace change only when it benefits the team’s efficiency and connectivity.

Embrace difference: turning diversity into strength

Global virtual teams are inherently diverse, which can be a source of strength rather than a challenge. Embracing and leveraging these differences can lead to better decision-making and more effective collaboration.

Encourage team members to learn about and respect each other’s cultures, traditions and perspectives. This helps reduce cultural misunderstandings and fosters mutual respect.

Turn time zone differences into an advantage by establishing overlapping work hours for team members in different regions. This ensures that there is a consistent window of opportunity for collaboration.

Embracing a wider range of perspectives leads to better decision making, particularly when it involves complex decisions.  Harness different points of view to solve problems in innovative new ways. If you lack diversity of thought in your team, encourage them to deliberately adopt a different point of view through playing “devil’s advocate”.

Building better connections among virtual global teams is not without its challenges, but with a focus on trust, quality communication, the right tools and embracing differences, organisations can create cohesive and high-performing teams that transcend geographical boundaries. By nurturing these key focus areas, businesses can harness the full potential of their global talent and ensure the success of their virtual teams in an increasingly interconnected world.

Alison Grieve and Jenni Miller are leadership and team coaches, as well as co-authors of the new book, Leading Edge: Strategies for Developing & Sustaining High-Performing Teams

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