energizing breakthrough performance

Virtually Yours: Your Virtual Team

  • Among the Team Leader, Team Members, and Customers: The CEO of a major, well-respected information technology company asked me about the interface of a key customer located in Northern Virginia with a key functional element located halfway across the country.
    In one sense, there are functions and services that are quite appropriate for virtual team servicing: These functions and services are "backstage," invisible to the customer and in that sense, the work can be performed anywhere. On the other hand, the careful setting of customer expectations, learning the nuances of customer preference, anticipating tomorrow’s customer requirements, and forging a bond of trust that works well for recovery from failure and capturing a greater share of wallet spells some degree of face time. When must the virtual team have a non-virtual expression? When must the virtual bleed over into more traditional business dealings?
    My advice was to ensure that the company arranges for direct face time with the customer—either through the detailing and/or weekly fly-in of a key staff member so that the bonding with the customer is there. What’s more, this temporary detail or fly-in person can achieve a human link between the customer and the balance of the virtual team members located wherever. Customer success requires some amount of 98.6o F. At the risk of stating the obvious, we all sometimes need to be reminded that despite the speed and cost-containment advantages of the virtual team, the advantages of systematic human contact remain significant.
  • Among Team Members: One CEO offered his operational definition of "culture": Culture is how employees behave when the boss isn’t around. Most of the work of virtual teams is, in fact, conducted without the boss looking. The virtual culture of your enterprise can only be as good as the overarching culture of your organization. In fact, those who participate on virtual teams are, to some extent, weaving a separate reality, a separate culture where healthy habits and traditions are in their earliest stages of formation. Self-governance is the name of the game for most virtual teams. Members need to evolve rules that team members can adapt to individual project needs or to the uniquenesses presented by a given set of members. Team members who participate most actively and extensively on virtual teams may be able to play an oversight and coaching role that helps members who are newer to the virtual team game adapt. In this way values and norms of preferred team member behavior can be guided with a light touch rather than left to develop as the residue left by a series of crisis-driven projects, one after the other.

Virtual, cross-functional teams require a combined level of technological and organizational sophistication and a higher degree of emotional intelligence on the part of management and team members. It is unsafe to assume that technology can address all of the challenges that technology’s opportunities present. The principles of effective matrix management can help smooth the functioning of your virtual teams.

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