Virtual teams face the same challenges as in-person teams, from miscommunications and lack of accountability, to lack of buy-in for agreements and lack of trust. The growth of technology and new mediated communication was thought to be the answer to these problems.
Patrick Lencioni, author of the best-selling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, writes after a recent experience working on a geographically diverse team himself that the experience was more of a challenge than even he anticipated and that technology alone cannot be the answer.
Remote teams must commit to working together when miscommunication happens and uncomfortable situations come up. When daily face-to-face communication is not available, these teams face the challenge of finding other ways to engage in productive conflict and accountability.
The Five BehaviorsTM is based on 5 competencies that are essential to effective teams: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. Remote teams are met with challenges on all fronts.
Genuine transparency and honesty, which can be difficult when communication is mediated by technology, form the basis of trust. This trust can be rebuilt through intentional team-building based on vulnerability and diligent attention to how team members are interpreting others’ thoughts.
Trust on a virtual team:
Beginning this process can be as simple as discussing the fact that miscommunications, different agendas, and internal problems will happen and must be carefully managed.
Without a strong vulnerability-based trust, teams find it more challenging to debate constructively about ideas or bring up alternate solutions. Productive conflict is part of what makes teams more effective than a single person unit. This productive discourse happens during conference calls, virtual chats, and video meetings. Lencioni says that disciplined conference calls are one of the most critical parts of effective teams.
Conflict on a virtual team:
To even the playing field, some virtual teams suggest using a remote first mentality; if one person is participating via video call, then the whole team will do the same to ensure each member has the same opportunity to express their ideas and concerns.
Teams that are unable to address all constructive ideas also have issues with members agreeing with and committing to the ideas discussed. A lack of buy-in and commitment to decisions made by the team can be improved after establishing productive conflict and discourse designed to address all potential issues.
Commitment on a virtual team:
Clearly address each person’s concerns at the same time and avoid spreading information or decisions individually. Transparently state to the full group what has been decided and give the same updates to everyone.
If a team lacks trust, healthy conflict, and commitment, that team is less able to hold members accountable for each part. As these steps build on each other, accountability relies on the fact that teams—whether virtual or in-person—are trusting in each other, fully communicating ideas, and managing conflict, as well as committing to the decisions made by the team. Virtual teams can enhance accountability after establishing the foundational team characteristics that allow them to be on the same page.
Accountability on a virtual team:
After clearly stating each person’s responsibility, the team should check in regularly with status updates to ensure each member is playing his or her part in the project.
To drive ROI, virtual teams must focus on results like in-person teams do, plain and simple. Lencioni is optimistic about one thing: remote teams can drive business success. Leaders of these teams are especially critical in the task of keeping the team effective and driving forward.
Results on a virtual team:
Remote teams can find direction and drive results once they have clearly outlined goals and roles. Goal-setting, clear communication, and recognition of a job well done are just as important for virtual teams as non-remote teams.
Teams do best when they recognize the challenges they face. It’s a continuous process of maintaining trust, fostering productive discussion, reinforcing commitment, holding others accountable, and achieving results based on the team’s objectives. Telecommuting teams are able to do these things with a little extra communication and intentionality, leading to a more effective and results-based environment.