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Five Tools for Successful Virtual Team Management

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Managing a virtual team requires both task and culture management. Most managers know how to manage tasks, but not how to manage a culture. Virtual teams use email, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, and are also called global teams or distance teams. Problems with virtual teams arise from the limitations of technology and distance, such as not feeling quite human or recognized. These technology issues can also interrupt communications and information sharing. It is possible to overcome these issues and manage a virtual team to be more productive.

Here are 5 research-based tools that may be helpful in creating your own management program.

1. Lay foundations for task-related trust

2. Lay foundations for relationship-based trust

3. Create a culture that everyone feels a part of

4. Grant ample time for an introductory period

5. Model and support continuous appreciation

To create a successful virtual team, first lay foundations for task-related trust by defining and communicating tasks clearly. Then review resumes and background experiences by assigning tasks to competent people. This is where you are assembling your team and assigning roles. In addition to skills and knowledge, find out about their previous experience in virtual teams.  It doesn’t matter what their answers are, but these will help you to anticipate and prepare for their needs. Ask if these people have had good or bad previous experiences on virtual teams. Ask what they have found works best for them.  Avoid judgment. Employ curiosity. A mature team will need very little management.  Be prepared to guide a less seasoned group.

Second, lay foundations for relationship-based trust. To do this, model a culture of openness; model a culture of appropriate disclosure; model a culture of open self-reflection.

To model a culture of openness means to encourage openness.  For example, if someone says, “Hey. This solution we are working on isn’t going to work!” welcome that input! Consider that this person could be highly concerned about the success of the team and is prepared to stick their neck out to help the team! For example, “John, your criticism of the way we were thinking about the project has been very useful and I hope to hear more from you as we try new solutions.” Be sure to cc everyone on the team so that they understand the team culture attitude toward openness.

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