3 tips for strong virtual collaboration
First class work based on collaboration: a result that is more than just the sum of individual expertise. That is the goal of team work. But how can this be achieved when team members are often only connected with one another digitally? We discover the answer during a Skype call with an expert in the field.
The trend is obvious: collaboration and communication are becoming increasingly digital. This is true not only within the IT or communications industries: in general, team work today has less to do with physical presence than it did in the past. More than ever, individual team members connect via collaboration tools – regardless of what part of the world they are in or whether they know each other personally or not. The goal, however, has remained the same: achieve joint results that will move the company forward.
Anthony Gibson, who we interviewed last, also asks the question: “How can businesses today encourage strong team spirit?“
More than just technical tools and high-speed internet is needed in order to achieve above-average results within virtual teams. Trina Roach, consultant for corporate culture, team spirit and leadership at beople dd, has worked with countless businesses in the past decades. She has learned: group dynamics and brilliant results do not happen by accident, and this goes for virtual teams as well. “High-performance teams require a certain framework”, she states. She shares three tips with Workstyles that describe how groups develop into high-performance teams – in the digital age as well.
Team-tip 1: Provide direction
“Teams are only able to really burn for an employer or client if they know and feel what the business stands for”, explains Trina. Whether scrum master or project leader, managers must provide this direction. But what provides the basis for this leadership? “Corporate guidelines or mission and vision statements are more important than ever,” says Trina, “they also provide direction in digital times.”
But, this high-level corporate philosophy must actually describe the business. All too often, mission statements are interchangeable and contain empty words and phrases such as “innovative” or “future oriented.” Therefore, it is clear to Trina that honest and critical analysis of what the business truly stands for and where it is headed must be the foundation of good guiding principles. However, in order to be realistic, the values must also be in accordance with economic objectives.
Finally, it is important to fill the statements with life. “If a business calls itself ‘innovative’, managers and teams must actually have the financial and temporal capacities to develop ideas and try out new things – instead of being solely occupied with day-to-day activities.” Therefore, according to this expert, ‘lived’ guidelines are an important investment towards security, identity and extraordinary results within the team.
Team-tip 2: Include employees
“Employees want to be included, want to contribute and want to understand the decisions being made.” According to Trina, not just the so-called Generation Y, but other age groups as well, are now asking the question “why”? If a business is able to provide good answers to the questions of sense above and beyond moneymaking, this has a positive effect on employee loyalty. Thus, it is possible to strengthen the bonds between team members, also within virtual teams. “When team members are included, motivation is the result.”
Trina is convinced that good forms of participation are important for group dynamics and work results. And she is not talking about a time-consuming grassroots approach. Businesses must remain dynamic. However, she is convinced that communication is crucial. If suggestion or ideas made by team members are not pursued, this must be reasonably justified. “If this does not occur,” says Trina, “it has a negative impact on the future group participation of the individual.”
Team-tip 3: Invest in communication
Having a chat in the hall and eating lunch together in the company cafeteria: these things are not possible within an entirely virtual team. However, informal possibilities for exchange and communication such as these are just the things that strengthen a team, as they establish relationships amongst the team members. “Why not just go ahead and have a virtual coffee break?” asks Trina. She has noticed that virtual teams often focus too much on the task at hand, lose sight of the person behind the task, and then stumble on inter-personal conflicts. “That ends up costing a lot of time and effort.” When communication takes place via technical tools, subtleties such as tone of voice and facial expression are lost.
Therefore, Trina suggests investing in communication as early as possible: focusing on getting to know one another and informal exchanges. This can be done either by having a coffee via webcam or, if possible, in the traditional manner in form of a personal meeting.
Trinas impassioned plea
Near the end of our conversation, Trina makes an impassioned plea for the correct usage of technology, stating “Digitalization is a means towards an end! Not the other way around.” She also suggests carefully examining what value individual technologies, exchange platforms and collaboration tools really offer – and how these can be used to achieve better results. The business consultant has often observed that a fascination for technology within some virtual teams has led to the actual goal being lost out of sight. She advises: “Pay attention to what really benefits the company, the team and the individual – and notice what is only an unnecessary technical gimmick!”
Trina’s question: how would you advise the up-and-coming working generation to best prepare themselves for the working world of the future?