A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams

“A Manager’s Guide To Virtual Teams” begins introducing the reader to the three stages of the life cycle of a virtual team: setup, follow-through, refresh.  Throughout the book, the author, Yael Zofi, uses the metaphor of a roadmap to guide the reader through these three stages and how to have successful virtual teams.

Setup Phase

During the setup phase, determine the team’s purpose by examining these five interrelated ideas:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Goals
  • Tasks
  • Results

Follow-through Phase

Successful virtual teams establish norms, communication, expectations, time lines, etc.  Follow-through includes how the team adheres to the set up goals and timelines. At the heart of team performance are strong team leaders and their ability to keep team members accountable for their work.

Refresh Phase

Refreshing the virtual team keeps members connected to both the changes that occur during the project and  to team membership.

Successful virtual teams understand that human connection is as important as digital communication. New technologies make it easy to connect with team members, vendors, and customers; however, the bottom line is that teams must connect on a constant basis.

Training and team development provide the roadmap for successful virtual teams.  Zofi explains that training and development help determine team:

  • purpose,
  • destination,
  • rules of the road (a structure for how the team will operate), and
  • code of conduct.

The author states many case studies to illustrate how to clarify team destination and how to establish rules of the road.

Context Communication

Zofi defines context communication as allowing team members to understand the virtual team setting to increase successful collaboration.  A paramount key to successful communication, as well as team relationships, is trust.  This manager’s guide gives 10 rules for building trust in your virtual team and outlines behaviors that lead to different types of trust.  It is noted that the biggest virtual conflicts arise due to communication or lack thereof: therefore, an entire chapter is dedicated to defusing conflict and overcoming roadblocks.

According to Zofi, the following four communications challenges in the virtual environment are:

  1. lack of informal communication,
  2. differences in perception,
  3. differences in status, and
  4. differences in interpreting context.

Cross-Cultural Interactions

Cross-cultural communications often arise with virtual teams. However, understanding the cultural divide and possible mis-communications leads to successful communication and positive results.   Five cultural clusters are described to assess team members and their cultural backgrounds. An effective way to improve daily interactions is by using L E A R N:

Listen

Effectively Communicate

Avoid Ambiguity

Respect Differences

No Judgment

Using the LEARN strategies helps adapt and integrate cross-cultural backgrounds within a virtual team.

A strong point of the book is its classification of conflict types: performance conflict, identity conflict, data conflict, and social conflict. Clarifying mis-communication begins with identifying the type of conflict.  The next step is learning how to respond to conflict.  By lowering barriers to communication, the author shows how conflicts can become problem-solving opportunities rather than setbacks.

Delivering Results

The most difficult part of virtual teaming is delivering results.  Roadblocks to getting deliverables out the door include ineffective project planning, monitoring, coordination, risk management, and follow-through, as well as differing time zones.

Three behaviors virtual manager need to cultivate for successful deliverable management include aligning, tracking, and establishing frequency of communications. The in-depth description of these behaviors and how to achieve them helps give managers the tools for team success.

The book concludes by describing the future of virtual teams. Zofi emphasizes the importance of reassessing and refreshing your team.  Though the book has a textbook feel, it includes many good analogies, case studies, and references to use in in creating and strengthening organizational virtual teams.

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