When You Don’t See Them, How Do You Lead Them: Virtual Project Teams

Whether you have dispersed teams, global teams or frequent telecommuters, business today is being accomplished in large part by virtual project teams. Here are some suggestions for optimizing the outcomes of your virtual project teams.

Scenario
You are a project manager. You have inherited 14 employees; only three are co-located. You have been given a high stakes project with a nine-month deadline. What do you do to get your team up and running in high gear? There is no budget for a face-to-face offsite.

Here are some tips to increase the success of your new team:

Tips for Virtual Project Managers:

1. Listen, Learn and Clarify – Too often project managers jump right into the task. Instead, take the time to talk with each person individually. Get to know them. Learn what they perceive of as their strengths; how they can most effectively contribute to the team. Find out what may get in the way of their performing at their optimal level. Understand how they like to be managed. Describe your leadership style and personal idiosyncrasies. Clarify expectations up front. It will save time later on when the project substance needs to flow. It will likely head off unnecessary conflicts or frustrations. Be transparent. Build relationships.

2. Accelerate Team Building – Bring the team together on a teleconference or a video-conference for a team building experience. Team members need to get to know one another in order to establish trust. The more they can learn about the things they have in common the sooner trust can be developed. Did they major in similar studies in college? Do they have kids; do they play a sport? Have they traveled in similar places? While these issues may seem trivial, it is a way for team members to find common ground and bond with one another… which leads to trust. Trust is the one element that may make or break your project results.

Next, be clear about expectations – yours and the expectations of others. Establish team agreements. If an email is sent, how long do people have to respond – 24 hours, 48 hours? Share personal idiosyncrasies: I prefer to get an email so I can think about the problem before responding; others may say: I prefer to be called because I think better spontaneously. I am at my desk by 5 a.m. my time and quit 8 or 9 hours later. It works best to contact me early as I’m not available late in the day. Note down the different preferences and post them on shared space so team members can accommodate one another as much as possible.

3. Learn how to Manage Conflict or Disagreements – Creativity emerges from different perspectives. As the project leader, learn how to both encourage different viewpoints as well as manage them so they become the fuel for new ideas and innovation. In fact, there needs to be a value placed on ‘fruitful friction’.

Inevitably, there will be disagreements on your team. That’s a good thing. Establish agreements on how to manage disagreements. Who needs to get involved? What is the escalation process? Who makes the decision? How do you insure that this disagreement does not negatively influence the way these individuals relate in the future?

Help your team view disagreements as a way to innovate. Fruitful friction can assist the team to think outside the box.

The Bottom Line
Project leaders have a tendency to jump into the task. It is important to learn that connection comes before content. The task will take care of itself if you and members of the team know one another, trust one another and have taken the upfront time to articulate working agreements. Understand the strengths each member brings, the personal preferences they have for maintaining communication and working together. This will accelerate your team’s performance and perhaps even have the project completed before the deadline and under budget!

Learn more about virtual project management at: www.VirtualConnection.biz
Contact Barb at: BMiller@VirtualConnection.biz

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4 Responses to “When You Don’t See Them, How Do You Lead Them: Virtual Project Teams”

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