iStock_000005419738hands stacked[1]Question:

I work on a virtual team and do collaborate closely with two colleagues on specific tasks, but I find it hard to build relationships with other teammates.  Many of my coworkers are located in different countries. We rely on email, instant messaging and video chat to communicate.  But, it is easy to misunderstand what people are communicating and this leads to some tension.

Do you have any suggestions for this>

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Answer

Wonderful question. Thanks for asking!

The way I define a virtual team is a group of people who work independently with shared purpose across space, time and organizational boundaries, using technology to communicate and collaborate.

The problem is that you can’t see your colleagues and, therefore, lose out on all the nonverbal understandings as well as building relationships and rapport, which then makes trust building difficult.

It also can make it harder to resolve team conflict, which then spirals misunderstandings up and trust down.

So effective communication is key.

This is where Genuineness is important because open, honest, forthright and frank communication not only helps you avoid misunderstandings, it also increase your effectiveness. But it is equally important to listen.  This is where active listening skills are very important.  Therefore, giving the other person your full attention is very important because it is easy to get distracted when the person is not in the room with you.  It will help you understand them better and is also a sign of respect and courtesy.

Then when you are speaking, make sure you speak slowly and clearly because of the time buffering that sometimes occurs on Skype.  And, try to speak as if everyone is in the room with you.

Social integration training

If you work with a global team it is very important to have social integration training to help you avoid embarrassing mistakes with team members from different countries.  Also, be sure you include that it is OK to use emoticons for clarifying the emotional tone of your message.

When raising issues or giving sensitive feedback

When raising issues or giving sensitive feedback, it is most advantageous to do this in person.  I know how difficult that is when your team is virtual.  However, when it isn’t possible use Skype.  Do not use email or instant messaging. It is important for people to see your expression.

When you’re part of a virtual team, it can be tempting to let issues — or perceived unfairness — slide by.  However, if you don’t speak up and voice your concerns, these issues can become bigger problems over time.  So it is again important to rely on Genuineness for this. And, it is important to manage your own emotions so that you stay calm and collected.

Also, ask your boss whether you can meet your team in person, at least once a year. This can be expensive and time-consuming, but spending some time together will help you build trust, and it will strengthen your relationships, particularly if these are sometimes strained.

To build Trust

To build Trust, start by keeping your word. If you agree on a deadline, or you make a promise to call a teammate, follow up on what you say.  When you demonstrate your integrity and work ethic, your team members will learn that they can rely on you.

Respond promptly to emails and other requests.  A quick response shows your teammates that their needs are important to you.

Technical tools

Last, use online private bloggs and forums to connect with coworkers on topics other than just work. It’s normal for professionals who work virtually to experience feelings of isolation.  You might also feel as if your organization has “forgotten” you, if you often work remotely.

If you are experiencing these feelings, take active steps to combat them.  If your organization has a blog or form set up to connect and support virtual workers.  Spend time using these platforms.  If you do not have access to a support platform, ask your boss about creating one. These platforms can help everyone on the team, and they might even support online brainstorming and action planning.

And, I have just put a memory jog in my calendar to make sure I cover how to do this at our 6 Principles That Build High Performance Teams live workshop this September. The link is here.

I have actually developed a training forum for participants that release 8 pre-trainings to you through video before the live event. I believe so firmly in good virtual connections.

This is exactly why we developed this membership site.  Not only would a response like this be really boring if you were not interested in it, it also keeps our emails shorter and interest-focused.

Got a question?

The best way to get questions to me is by return email to your newsletter announcement.  Otherwise, send me an email at info@corevalues.com  Be sure to put member question in your subject line.  I don’t know where all the spam comes from, but it is easy for me to trip up and delete a communication if I don’t know you personally by mail.

And, when you ask me questions, you are able to tap into 2 decades of my experience.  Have a super weekend!