Driving Results Through Geographically Dispersed Virtual TeamsToday’s global economy is more complex and inter-connected than ever before. And, unsurprisingly, the composition of workforces has followed this suit. In 2011, 40% of senior leaders in Fortune 500 companies said over 40% of their workforce are currently remote workers. Given the rapid development of cloud–based technologies for collaboration and web-conferencing, the percentage of virtual teams within companies only continues to increase. This certainly affords companies a tremendous opportunity to build proficient and high-performing teams. Being able to recruit global employees with functional expertise who add diversity, cultural understanding, and differing perspective empowers companies to navigate strategic challenges. Consider a company that hopes to expand sales and operational capacity in India. While the company’s headquarters in located in the United States, having remote employees in the very market where they are hoping to expand their presence will prove invaluable. Companies who embrace the benefits of virtual teams are better poised to capitalize on both global and local opportunities for growth. But geographically dispersed virtual team management can feel overwhelming at times. Not only are their cultural, language, and geographic challenges to navigate, something as simple as communication and collaboration can be too large a hurtle to overcome for some managers, especially without a virtual team management plan. In a typical office environment, where teams are all located in the same physical space, communication problems are virtually non-existent. When someone has a question about a deliverable, they walk down the hall and ask the responsible party for an update. When someone needs help on a project, they can simply poll the office staff to see who has the skills and time to help them solve the problem so they can continue their work. In a virtual work environment, this dynamic is a bit more difficult to accomplish, and companies that cannot structure communication correctly suffer greatly because of it. In an effort to help managers better manage their virtual teams, we offer three pieces of advice, taken from Mark Mortensen in his recent HBR article, “A First Time Manager’s Guide to Leading Virtual Teams.”
- Understand, virtual teams are comprised of people, just like any other type of team. They are motivated by the same principles as your non-virtual employees. They just happen to be in a different location.
- Ensure that the virtual team’s goal is clear, challenging, consequential, and yields results that benefit all parties. Just like your non-virtual employees, virtual teams need not only to know what they are working on, but the context and the ‘Why.’ This creates alignment around shared business objectives, regardless of geographic location.
- Help your teams, regardless of location, combat us-vs.-them thinking, and reinforce what isshared: the team’s purpose. Often, non-virtual and virtual teams collaborate on projects extensively to drive results. Creating an understanding that the teams are “One Entity” will help foster collaboration and the desire for shared success.