Setting up Virtual Teams for your project

by Francis on August 1, 2013

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.

If you are unable to pos­it­ively answer any or all of these and other ques­tions you need to ser­i­ously con­sider your approach and poten­tially rethink things, but if you can answer them pos­it­ively and hon­estly and believe that it is still right for you then you are at least on the right track.

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.

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