7 Habits of Highly Effective Virtual Teams

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Stephen R Covey wrote the  groundbreaking Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In the spirit of his book, I have a few ideas about effective virtual teams. It’s kind of a passion of mine. My research and my book Virtual Teams for Dummies continue to motivate me to spread the word about virtual team best practices. Frankly, I believe it is critical for all leaders in today’s workplace. Virtual teams are not slowing down and I sincerely want them to be successful. Learning to be a highly effective team in a virtual workplace can be a win win situation for everyone. But virtual teams will struggle if their leaders apply old-school management processes to their new far-flung teams.  So take to heart these habits, and your virtual team will be way ahead of the game.

The Seven Effective Habits for Your Virtual Teams

  1. Team members are in contact daily – If it’s hard to remember the last time you connected with your team, then you have a problem. Highly effective virtual teams can’t let their daily or weekly team meetings fall off the calendar. Isolation and disengagement are the death knell for virtual teams, but the good news is that you have the solution at your fingertips. The best collaboration tools include project management, file sharing, video conferencing and instant messaging. Get started and recommit your team to using the programs you have in place – every day. Effective team building is an ongoing process and you must work together to keep it together!
  2. Trust is not an issue – Leaders and team members need to let go of outdated, clock-watching models. Flexible work hours are built into a virtual team model and are proving to be better for everyone’s well being in the long run. Obviously, setting clear expectations and accountability plays into this, but you can’t try to manage a virtual team with a 9-5 mindset. Team trust and team development are fairly synonymous. Trust is the foundation of highly effective teams. Leaders with high emotional intelligence recognize this.
  3. Everyone understands – and respects – the rules. Effective virtual teams have a team charter (team vision and values) and team agreement (how you get things done day-to-day) in place. When people do their work unseen by others, it is imperative that they – and every member of the team – are accountable for doing what they say they will. Setting team standards and holding team members accountable is critical for team success and creates a win win situation every time.
  4. Over-communication is the rule — This one’s no surprise and it’s even more critical in the virtual world. When you aren’t together every day, you must communicate team goals and individual expectations clearly and seek feedback from each other frequently, using all the technologies available to you. When in meetings, work together to practice listening skills and make sure everyone is heard. This is a skill of emotional intelligence. Make goal setting a team effort. 
  5. Everyone uses the same communication vehicles – You cannot manage a virtual team via emails and conference calls alone. There are so many great tools available to bring virtual teams together – collaborative software, video conferencing, project management tools, group scheduling, note-taking and brainstorming, file sharing, social media-type tools and much more. Having the right technology is only half the battle – team members must use it effectively to realize the benefits of true team connection. This will lead to better overall team performance.
  6. Respect the clock and the map – Highly effective teams understand time and cultural differences because they often exist to connect people across the country and the world. It is critical to understand each other’s cultures, language barriers, body language differences, humor, sensitivities, not to mention work hours and time zones. This creates stronger team building. 
  7. Getting Together ‘IRL’ – I am a huge proponent of virtual teams, but there’s nothing better than being in the same room together. Virtual teams who get together in person at least monthly are able to realize peak effectiveness. Get-togethers could even be offered as a reward system after big projects. However, for teams where this is impossible due to budgetary or geographic restrictions, you can still establish rapport and build relationships with each other by setting aside time for non-work connections. No one exists in a vacuum. This leads to everyone’s long-term well being, better team dynamics, and more job satisfaction.

Embrace the Era of Virtual Team Effectiveness

In conclusion, the principles of effective virtual team management are essential for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of today’s workplace. Just as Stephen R. Covey revolutionized personal effectiveness, understanding the habits of effective virtual teams is crucial. The fast-paced world of virtual work is here to stay, and it demands a new set of skills and practices. The success of virtual teams hinges on daily communication, trust, clear rules and accountability, over-communication, uniform communication tools, respect for diverse perspectives, and periodic in-person interactions for team building. These habits lay the foundation for building cohesive and effective teams.

As we continue to spread the word about these best practices through research and resources like “Virtual Teams for Dummies,” it is our sincere hope that more leaders and team members will adopt these principles and experience the win-win outcomes they offer. The world of virtual teams dynamics is promising, and by embracing these habits, you position your team to thrive in this exciting new era of work.

I have been speaking to groups and working with more clients on virtual teams, and I am loving these opportunities to share my research, knowledge and experience. I believe it is vital for leaders and teams in the modern workplace to understand what makes an effective team. If your company would benefit from learning more about virtual teams becoming effective teams, contact me today to get started!

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