Learning to work as a team and collaborate with others is a skill most of us have been working on since grade school. But it usually involved being in the same room, working side-by-side. In today’s work environment, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t involved in virtual collaboration, often with team members in completely different time zones.
That’s why the team collaboration is such a hot topic. And while we’re all trying to figure out the best way to be productive in a virtual collaborative setting, there are plenty of experts out there who have some great wisdom to share with the rest of us. So take a look at this collaboration roundup, as we share some of the top collaboration resources on the Web:
Definition of Collaboration
Do you really know what collaboration means? There are lots of definitions floating around out there, and if there’s one person that has tried to determine which one fits, it’s Carlos Dominguez, Cisco Senior Vice President, Office of the Chairman and CEO.
Dominguez explores the topic of collaboration frequently in his keynote addresses and blogs, as well as in his many discussions with business leaders from all over the world. In the article, “Collaboration: What Does it Really Mean?” he shares his personal observations on the subject, including:
- The various definitions of collaboration, and its value
- Effective collaboration in an organization
- Bad collaboration (versus no collaboration at all)
- The confusion between collaboration and innovation
Tips for Managing Virtual Teams
While virtual teams have many advantages, there are also some disadvantages. When team members are located in different offices – often in different time zones – obviously there isn’t as much work structure, and this often leads to undefined policies.
So what should virtual team managers do to make it work? Management expert Sebastian Reiche, professor at IESE Business School, offers his top tips, including:
- Don’t let your team feel isolated. Be available on a regular basis.
- Hold regular meetings, both for individuals and teams. And try to have face-to-face meetings when you can.
- Use your creativity with team bonding efforts.
- Make cultural sensitivity a priority
- When recruiting, look for shared understanding.
Read more of Reiche’s virtual team management tips right here.
Common Concerns for Virtual Team Managers
There are several recurring themes that pop up when virtual team managers ask questions, according to Mark Mortensen and Michael O’Leary. In their guest blog for Harvard Business Review, they explore the most common concerns involving best practices for managing global teams: face-to-face meetings, technology, and dispersed workers.
In terms of meeting face-to-face (FTF), the authors cite research that reveals:
- FTF interaction is crucial during a team’s early life
- Repeated FTF meetings are best when occurring at predictable times and intervals
- Predictable FTF meeting schedules allow teams to outperform those who only meet on an “as needed” basis
When it comes to technology and choosing collaboration software, Mortensen and O’Leary advise managers to focus on the criteria that shape daily behavior. “Ask yourself, why do we rely so heavily on phones and email — technologies that haven’t fundamentally changed much since they were introduced? We rely on them day in and day out because they provide the communication trifecta: simplicity, reliability, and accessibility.”
Finally, studies show that dispersed team members often lack shared and common understanding, with little opportunities to engage in informal conversations that promote cohesion. Therefore, virtual team managers will benefit from focusing on both structure and socialization.
Basic Principles for Making Virtual Teams Work
The first 90 days is crucial for new leaders, according to Michael Watkins, co founder of Genesis Advisers. Why? Because that’s when a foundation must be laid for excellent team performance. In a blog for Harvard Business Review, he spells out 10 basic principles for making virtual teams work, including:
- If possible, get the team together in the same physical room early in the team formation process
- Don’t focus only on goals and roles – clarify tasks and processes too
- Establish a “communication charter”
- Leverage and invest in collaboration technologies
- Establish a “rhythm” for your virtual team
- Foster shared leadership
Check out the rest of Watkins’ basic principles for making virtual teams work here.
Techniques for Managing Virtual Teams
Tom Mochal, president of TenStep, Inc., has been studying virtual teams for years. As an instructor and consultant on project management, he says that establishing team objectives is key, so that team members know and understand what it is that they are doing together. “If they understand only their own role and their own work, they will always just be individual contributors,” he said.
Other managing techniques that help virtual teams thrive include:
- Regular reinforcement of teamwork (versus working independently)
- Establish clear ground rules
- Be extra proactive in your communications
- Be sensitive to workload management
- Assign smaller projects with shorter deadlines
Peak Performance for Virtual Teams
Assistant Professor Mark Mortensen believes that virtual teams can outperform their colocated counterparts, and he explains this view as a contributor in MIT’s Innovation@work Blog. But he knows it isn’t easy. “While conventional wisdom suggests that the performance of teams suffers with dispersion, remote collaboration can provide substantial benefits,” he says.
Mortensen stresses how important it is for organizations to create trust and effective communication among the members of any virtual team, along with commitment and engagement. His top three suggestions for managers include:
- Improve virtual collaboration through managed processes
- Be aware of the importance of direct and reflected knowledge to managing dispersion
- Provide your virtual team with appropriate tools
More Top Collaboration Resources
We know there are countless collaboration resources out there exploring teamwork and virtual teams, and we’d love to hear about the ones you like. Do you have any special tips or ideas that work? And what doesn’t? Leave your ideas and comments below.
Interested on more tips on building a collaboration culture? Check out our e-book.