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As the world moves deeper into an information age, business and work are being conducted remotely to an increasing degree. The skills that led to success working face-to-face in teams during the industrial age are not necessarily the same skills that will produce success working remotely in the information age. Many traditional principles of leadership and teamwork still apply in the information age, but they require adaptation to be utilized optimally in the virtual team environment. For virtual team to succeed, it should be setup and launched properly, utilize the RAMP Model to overcome hurdles, convoke effective meetings, and be optimized and accelerated competently.
The success of a virtual team cannot be assured at its inception, but failure can be. Virtual teams often work separated by vast distances and time zone differences, without daily physical intermingling. This work environment is intrinsically more challenging and cumbersome than that utilized by traditional non-virtual teams. If this fact is not accounted for when virtual teams are planned and launched, they may have little chance of success.
Building relationships also builds trust. Team members must trust that other team members are competent and have integrity. Such trust is much more difficult to build with a person that is a mere remote presence on a computer screen as opposed to a physical person which a team member met. Good leaders understand this fact and work actively to overcome it.
Conflict resolution can also be challenging in the virtual team environment. Intense conflicts and disagreements were typically resolved by having people meet face-to-face in person and hash out their differences. Virtual teams often do not have this luxury. It can be more difficult for some people to be candid when not dealing with a person face-to-face physically. Conversely, other people have a greater tendency to machinate and insubordinate when they know that they cannot be confronted face to face physically. Successful virtual teams work through these challenges and resolve conflict so that it does not sabotage team effectiveness. Accountability, the second RAMP principle, can be much more challenging in virtual teams and groups. Without team members in direct physical proximity of each other, it is virtually impossible to directly track or monitor performance via periodic physical observation. This is problematic if there are lazy team members looking to shirk their fair share work, but also a challenge if a worker requires greater supervision and has many questions. Overall, the successful virtual team member must be able to exercise greater independence than a physical team member. A good leader helps team members cultivate the ability to work autonomously.
In the industrial age world of physical teams, a leader could have a face-to-face physical meeting with a team member who was struggling with motivation. At such a meeting, the leader could give a pep talk to the struggling team member, and also listen
to their problems and demonstrate that they understand and empathize. This is another dynamic that is more challenging in the virtual team environment, but certainly possible with telephone and videoconferencing technology. A virtual team leader must be proactive in scheduling one-on-one meetings and coaching or mentoring sessions to help team members who are struggling, especially with motivation.
Process becomes more critical when people are meeting virtually rather than in person. If there are not established frameworks for how and when communication will occur, it may not occur, and the group will accomplish little. Every team member must be clear on what communication technologies and methodologies will be utilized, and what their responsibilities are in this regard. Whether a team member is posting work to an online platform, or communicating with another
team member, a clear process which everyone understands for accomplishing the task is indispensable. All employees must have proficiency in the software packages used for productivity, communication, and conferencing, and must use the virtual tools that are best suited to the task at hand. Videoconferencing remains a strong tool because it is the closest approximation to a physical meeting yet conceived, allowing everyone to see and communicate with everyone else both verbally and visually.
It can be difficult for a leader to determine which factors matter the most in terms of optimizing group performance. The challenges can seem different when dealing with a group that is floundering versus one that is operating effectively but not at peak efficiency. As obvious as it sounds, getting people to work together is the key challenge that teams face. Good leaders help each individual to maximize their potential, by facilitating whatever support they require. This support will differ individual to individual; good leaders take the time to ascertain what each individual requires to maximize productivity and provide it. Some employees will require coaching or mentoring, while others only need minor technical or informational support.
Good leaders provide feedback to all team members to let them know what they are doing well and what they can be doing better. This helps each team member maximize their contribution to the group, thereby maximizing group effectiveness and productivity. Good leaders obtain support from their followers rather than trying to command them. In psychological terms, this can be viewed as the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and also represents higher order Maslow needs in many cases. Good leaders make team members feel like they are part of a process of reaching consensus and making decisions. When people feel like they are part of a democratic process rather than being commanded by a dictatorial leader, they tend to be supportive of team efforts and much more happy, productive, and effective.
It is amazing what a massive difference a small amount of positive feedback can make, and surprising how many leaders ignore this simple reality. Telling team members that they are appreciated and recognizing their contributions to other team members and the organization is crucial. This makes people feel good about themselves, the team, and the organization. There is something complimentary that can be said about everyone, and good leaders never neglect to do so. When the work and achievements of team members are recognized, they feel appreciated and they work harder. This is not brain surgery or rocket science, but it is a simple principle which is easy to neglect under the weight of other seemingly more pressing responsibilities.
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