When I arrived at Beehive Media last fall to take on my new role as the Client Services Director, one corporate behavior I had to quickly shed and transform was having historically only managed a core team face-to-face.
Beehive Media’s team is a virtual one – geographically dispersed in the greater Boston and New York areas, as well as Ukraine. Experts have studied virtual teams for the last three decades and from everything I’ve seen and read in the last six months, managing one is both an art and a science (sometimes a hair raising science – our CEO has no hair…coincidence?) A lot goes into managing a team across great distances, but with practice, a virtual team can be a great thing.
When considering your virtual team, key questions arise such as when should we meet face-to-face? How will we communicate? What software solutions will help us manage and complete our work? How do you manage a virtual team’s workload?
When should we meet face-to-face?Convening a virtual team face-to-face makes complete sense; the real question to immediately ask is when and why. When you consider the stages of team development (organizational development) –forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (based on Bruce Tuckman’s model)—it’s most critical to meet as a team in the beginning when it’s newly formed.
It’s important to meet early since people don’t know each other. It’s also an opportunity to create a team culture with norms, establish ground rules and expectations. Finally it’s key to start to develop integral relationships among team members.
Of course it’s also key to meet face to face at critical points in a project – some things are better solved in person. Identifying these times is key and better to err on the side of meeting too often at the beginning of a process and adjusting downward from there as the team gets used to working together.
How will we communicate?One best practice is that face-to-face meetings should occur early in a team’s development and should be established at predictable, recurring points. For example, our virtual team always meets face-to-face at least 1-2 days a week at our offices, usually on Mondays. Every other day there’s a 10 am check-in on Skype which focuses on 3 key questions: What did you work on yesterday? What are your top 3 priorities for today? What roadblocks are in your way? This predictable touch base allows our team to prepare for their day knowing when they’ll convene with the larger group and when they’ll have time to work 1-1 with other team members or by themselves.
Maintaining Divergent ThinkingOne great benefit of a virtual team is more divergent thinking and thought processes. What’s extremely interesting psychologically in Beehive’s virtual social environment is that the virtual space (literally) between us maintains more divergent thoughts. Generally we don’t automatically adopt each other’s opinions and biases in a face-to-face meeting since we often work 60-70% of the time independent from each other. This can be of great value to an organization and should be continually nurtured and promoted.
When I managed my old corporate team face-to-face, I had the opposite issue. Often time the team would adopt each other’s behaviors, opinions and think along the exact same lines to reach consensus. This is defined as “groupthink.”
“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.”
This “groupthink” often led to analysis-paralysis when team members became so frozen wanting to avoid conflict or divergent thinking that they focused on an specific issue, unnecessarily so, for days/weeks on end not being productive. When you have to make more of an effort to connect with people, achieving your goal becomes the ultimate objective.
What software solutions well help us manage our work?Managing a team’s daily work and finding the right software solution is not an easy task. Obviously selecting the right solution depends on the work you do, your team’s level of expertise and behavior. The rule of thumb should be simplicity. Does the solution do the job you need it to do?
The adoption time for any new technology should be little to none, and it has to be easy to access, easy to use, easy to navigate. Any piece of tech you use needs to achieve the job you “hired” it to do.
At Beehive we currently use Asana for task management, Basecamp for client/team collaboration, Join.me for web conferencing and Harvest for time tracking, among others, to manage our team. There are many options out there at many price points. Evaluate what’s best for you weighing functionality and cost. Remember though, it must simply work.
How do you manage a virtual team’s workload?Managing a team’s workload is an art and science. Every manager has tales of how they assigned or delegated a task clearly with explicit instructions to an employee, only to discover that upon completion the task was not done to their specifications. Frustration obviously sets in, as team members have to rework deliverables again and again.
One major issue is that virtual teams lack that spontaneous exchange of information around the “water cooler” (coffee pots, lunch times, hall gatherings, etc.) This creates a large gap in having a group understanding of a project or a common language. Several ideas to resolve that issue are to hold “virtual watercooler chats” on Skype or “eat lunch virtually” through a conference call once a week.
Keep it together!Generally speaking a virtual team should be managed to be social with structure in place. Here are some quick tips:
- Coordinated face-to-face meetings at predictable intervals
- Establish clear work processes, outputs, group norms
- Promote and encourage informal interaction—those “watercooler” moments are key to every organization
Creating a Company Culture with a Virtual Team | BostInno