Every project manager worthy of the title knows why effective teamwork is critical to project success. All members of great teams know their own roles, limitations and strengths, as well as those of everyone else on the team. They use this knowledge to avoid duplication, anticipate problems, and quickly determine who is most able and qualified to take on a new project assignment. These teams operate with minimal management oversight. In fact, wherever you find a micromanaging team leader, you are sure to find a poorly functioning team. Obviously there are many other factors that cause teams to malfunction (i.e., lack of clarity of purpose, roles, skills, etc.), but one factor is always critical: good teamwork.
Virtual teams are a special challenge for team leaders when it comes to building teamwork. The lack of frequent contact and visual social cues between members slows the natural progression of teambuilding. Today, fortunately, modern technology has made it easier than ever to build teamwork in a virtual team. As with traditional teams, teambuilding for virtual teams involves a great deal of interpesonal interaction and play. For both of these, the best tools are the phone, desktop sharing, instant messaging, and electronic whiteboards. You may have noticed that the common theme for all of these tools is that they facilitate ‘real-time’ interactions between two or more people. Here are some ways to use these tools to accelerate teambuilding in your virtual team:
Phone: 1) purchase a good phone conferencing service for your project and encourage its use. The cost may seem high at average rates, but this is cheap money compared with project slippage; 2) purchase decent headsets for everyone so the quality of audio for phone conferences is of high and uniform quality.
Desktop sharing: 1) if everyone on the project is in the same company, use NetMeeting, or its successor, Microsoft Windows Meeting Space, to facilitate sharing; 2) if you have people on the team from other companies, use Microsoft ShaedView for small groups, or purchase enough seats on a service like WebEx or Live Meeting to provide through-the-firewall connectivity.
Instant messaging: 1) be sure everyone is up on the same instant messaging service. I have found that voicemail usage drops dramatically when instant messaging is available and utilized by everyone; 2) encourage people to use instant messaging for short questions, but be sure to teach them proper etiquette.
Whiteboard: 1) use a virtual whiteboard for all meetings, but especially brainstorming sessions; 2) purchase graphics tablets for those who are comfortable drawing ideas. You’ll be amazed at how much better the quality and speed of brainstorming will be when people can easily sketch their concepts.
For more details and examples of the recommendations here, please checkout the virtual teams support site at http://commutezero.com.