Virtual Teams I

Some researchers posted on virtual teams at HBR recently, and I wanted to mention and think together with you.  Find their whole post here.

They mentioned three things.  1. that you need to meet face to face and more so at start.  2. That you should use comfortable means to communicate and not rely on fancy solutions.  3. That you need relational and informal time and not just goal focused time.

The classic hand off is from China to the States where neither side talks by phone, but the email should go back and forth daily on project work.  (At least from Europe you can talk in the Chinese afternoon.)  How many times do you expect the document in your inbox, and it is not there?  How many times do you get it, and it is not what you expected?

It is very hard to not assume at all. It is really hard to explicitly say everything about what you need, so the other side does not need to guess. Doing it cross culturally is even more compelling.

I suggest the following.

1. Have the people who will be doing this spend at least a week together working on projects in the same office and talking through expectations about how to handle issues. Include social opportunities outside work if possible.

2. Then, have them meet 1 month later at the other person’s location for a week to take next steps in understanding.

3.  Have a written document for how things should be handled and update it at this time. Develop it over time to make it better. Oversight should check to make sure this is done. Any dropped ball should be listed in this log with lessons learned and action to avoid in future.

4.  Mandate a weekly phone call. Have people faithfully attend it. Attend it yourself sometimes.

5.  Clarify rules for calling the other guy at home in the evening.  Have another person as a fall back to be able to call in the evening in case one is out of contact.

6.  Have regular times scheduled where they meet face to face.

7. Mine for problems and use phone calls to resolve or plan for face to face work through.

8.  Encourage part of the relationship to be social. Friendship is hard to require, but make space for people to talk about kids and sports and the like.   Trust is critical and this relational part builds trust.

9. Finally, be careful when you are hiring the Chinese person or the American if it is the other way around. A values and style match with the guy on the other end of the email is really useful.

10. Everyone should expect that things will happen and work to make things better over time.

Then we can all sleep better at night.  And oh, this is also pretty useful for people in the same office… Agreed?

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Posted in: China, Leadership, Team Development

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