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How to Manage a Virtual Team

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Okay, so the business world has gone global. Now, you’re just as likely to be working on a project with the man sitting in the next cubicle to yours as you are with a woman sitting in an office in China.

You’re a manager and have just been tasked with overseeing this great project that will increase your visibility within the organization and put you in line for that promotion you know you deserve. The only problem is that you have to manage a virtual team of highly skilled employees who are scattered all across the world! What should you do? It’s hard enough managing a team of people that are physically in the same location and that you see everyday, how on earth are you supposed to manage people in different time zones?!

Don’t panic, follow these easy steps and you should be well on your way to becoming a globalized, virtual leader!

1. Pick the Virtual Dream Team: Set up some time with each team member to meet with them individually. Introduce yourself, give them a brief overview of the project and explain why they’ve been chosen. Try to make this initial meeting face-to-face. If your travel budget doesn’t allow for this, set up a video conference. This is a nice time to give people a pat on the back for previous achievements. For example, you could say “Femi, you’ve been chosen to be a part of this team because of your expertise in Data Mining and the excellent work you did on the data warehousing project. That project saved the company $5 million over 2 years, and I’m glad to have you on my team”.

2. Set Up an Initial Team Meeting: Schedule a meeting to introduce team members to each other, set expectations and to give everyone a chance to start getting comfortable with the project and each other.

3. Create a Virtual Vision: One of the most critical things to do when managing a virtual team is to ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal and understands what the team is trying to accomplish. In order to do this, you need to create a vision/mission with the team. Once the mission is complete, have everyone print it out and hang it in a conspicuous place.

4. Establish Team Norms: Every team should go through the exercise of creating team norms. Norms are the rules and standards by which the team lives by. Everything from how team members interact with each other to how the work gets done should be addressed in the norms. Rules will be better adhered to if the team members help create them and agree to abide by them. A good topic to bring up during this process is how conflicts and disputes will be handled and resolved.

5. Get Communication Right: If communication is important to teams, it’s the lifeline of virtual teams. Communication methods and etiquette need to be established within the first few days of creating a new team. Questions that should be raised and addressed include:

• What methods of communication should/will be used? For example, should all team members have Instant Messaging?

• What will be the primary mode of communication?

• What hours do team mates absolutely have to be available to one another?

• How will team members contact one another during an emergency?

• How will the team communicate important information and what constitutes important information?

• What decisions can individuals make?

• What decisions require team input and what decisions require team leader input?

A complementary exercise to conduct along with the communication discussion is a personality test, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI can be used to accelerate the introductory stage and facilitate a deeper understanding of each team mate’s communication and work style. Time should also be spent on understanding the various cultures of your team members.

Create a SharePoint site for the team where all project documents will be housed. Include profiles (with pictures) of all team mates. Personalize the site by including information on team members, such as expertise, hobbies, family pictures, etc.

Now that you’ve taken the necessary steps to manage a trusting, high-performing virtual team, go out and conquer the world. Good luck!

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