I often come across organisations that have jumped into virtual team execution for their project and wonder why they get into problems during execution. Typically the problems are things they have never encountered before and often they leave the organisation emotionally and corporately scared from the experience.
I have heard comments like “They (the other office) are all liars”, “They just don’t get what we need”, “Their quality is all wrong” and similar, with the result being that the individuals and the organisations decide that it is all too difficult and they will revert to single office execution with all of the issues that entails, on the belief that they at least understand these local issues.
The sort of comments I have quoted above, and they are all actual comments, though paraphrased here, reflect a fundamental lack of planning and understanding of what is actually needed to make virtual teams work, but human nature being what it is tends to make us look external for a place to assign blame when problems occur — it is always “someone else” fault. But it does not have to be, with some real planning and using drawing on the right experience, plus the patience to learn on the run, virtual teams execution can be a productive, fruitful and, dare I say it, enjoyable experience.
To start to get virtual team execution right you need to go back to basics and deal with some fundamental, foundation issues such as;
- Why am I using a virtual team?
- Is my organisation set up to get the best from virtual teaming?
- Does my organisation support virtual teams?
- Do my personnel believe in virtual teams?
Why am I using a virtual team? This fundamental question must have a clear and sensible answer in the context of your project, typical answers would be; to access skills not readily available elsewhere, to accelerate execution of the project, to maintain better utilisation across the business and to reduce execution costs through accessing low cost centres, all of these are valid reasons and with the reasons in place it is easier to look to the other questions.
Is my organisation set up to get the best from virtual teaming? - Many organisations new to virtual teams are simply not configured to get the best out of virtual teams, they may have profit and loss centres that reward local execution, they may have IT networks that are hard to share work over, and they may have procedures and practices that are difficult to transfer between locations, these issues must be identified and either removed, modified or accepted and worked around for a virtual team execution to have a chance of success.
Does my organisation support virtual teams? - A supportive organisation will actively encourage and make adjustments where necessary to see virtual team project succeed, they will on occasion make local sacrifices for the greater good of the organisation and in the belief that they succeed together, but this is not always the case and if the organisation is not supportive of virtual teams, and if you are unable to change this situation, it may well be best to stick to what the organisation does support and hope for the best.
Do my personnel believe in virtual teams? - The personnel engaged in virtual team execution of a project must believe that it is the way to success for their project and possibly beyond that for their own futures, if that fundamental belief is there they will be accepting of the differences in approach, technique, language, quality etc that come with virtual teams, if they are not then comments such as those above will become all too common and the project will quickly find its self in trouble.
Obviously the above are just a few among a long list of factors that need to be considered when establishing a virtual team for your project, I would welcome any comments from practitioners as to what they have experienced and am happy to help with any questions anyone may have.