The power of virtual teams to respond quickly to corporate challenges, pooling both broad and deep expertise, has become an important key to corporate success. However, to get the most from the vast experience, knowledge and perspective of dispersed team members, you need to use the strength of a vision to bring the team together – leveraging the opportunity to ensure that every person fully understands and embraces their purpose and the role they (as well as those of their teammates) play in organizational success.
In an environment where team members do not have the luxury of interacting face to face, creating a living, breathing shared vision is the solid foundation on which to build a sound structure. A “virtual” vision serves several purposes:
1) The evaluation of fundamental attributes and characteristics that make the whole stronger than the individual
2) It establishes boundaries that guide strategy and
3) the vision establishes both explicit and implicit expectations and standards of performance
A vision for geographically dispersed teams will also provide focus and energy for overcoming traditional corporate cultures that promote a “HQ is best” mentality, encouraging the shift from a nationalistic or functional culture to a global perspective. It has the capacity to compel new ways of thinking and acting… as a global entity, while simultaneously providing a roadmap to keep the team on course when tempted to regress toward old habits. In reality, the vision has significant power to create commitment within the team. When done well, a vision will inspire team members to commit to accomplishing things that matter deeply to them – the vision becomes personal and creates a “third” culture – ultimately facilitating change and promoting the acceptance of collaborative thinking between diverse personalities.
When creating a vision for a virtual team, consider some key factors:
- Vision must be built around a challenge that is uniquely positioned for your specific virtual teams
- Vision should be directly tied to critical business results aligned to team member’s expertise, emphasizing both personal and team accountability
- Vision should explicitly banish “silo” activities that threaten team success and erode trust
- Vision should be the light that guides the team toward an exciting destination
If you are challenged with designing and implementing a meaningful virtual team vision, here are some basic guidelines:
- Invest in an initial virtual team “visioning” meeting or retreat to facilitate the team getting to know each other as more than distant colleagues. By creating the team vision through a collaborative process in a neutral setting, you are building a shared team identity that will allow the team to bond over mutual goals and objectives – developing a sense of belonging to something much wider and deeper than themselves
- As a team, identify the virtual team’s key strategic focus, linking it directly to the organizations strategic intent – use this as a basis for your vision
- As a team activity, translate the vision into long-term strategies, short term operational tactics… and then into goals, plans and tasks that everyone understands and agrees upon – based on the unique strengths each diverse person brings to the team
- Depict the emerging vision in key words and simple graphics that are universally understood and accepted
- Institutionalize the virtual team’s purpose and create a sense of team identity by developing a virtual team charter and mission statement to support the team’s vision (our next post)
Never forget that a vision, in and of itself, is useless. However, in a virtual environment, a vision without a driving force, shared understanding and purpose can be particularly toxic. A lack of clarity or focus can cause cultural misunderstandings, fracture unity, and destroy trust – especially in a multicultural, multifunctional virtual environment where visual cues are limited. For a vision to become a useful tool for driving success, it must be both clear and challenging, as well as providing explicit meaning and importance to the activities of the people within the team. A strong sense of who the team is and what they stand for as a cohesive unit must be built into the formula for success.
The virtual vision should encourage and guide strategic thinking and planning, while also defining the values and norms that will guide virtual work. The vision is necessary to provide direction and purpose – identifying a destination that will make a real difference – even moreso than with traditional teams.
A powerful vision will not only guide and inspire, motivate and excite, but most of all it will provide common meaning and purpose to a team that does not acquire this knowledge through live interactions.
The vision gives virtual team members a sense of who they are as a team, as well as a much-needed connection to the wider organization. In a world where few commonalities may be apparent, creating a common vision for the virtual team to bond around has the capacity to create a team identity that can be a basis for building relationships and trust that will span boundaries and borders.
It is important to constantly remind yourself that members of virtual teams are real people – individuals who live within their various cultures. If they are to be effective on a virtual team, they will need to develop a sense of collective identity and fundamental purpose. If you, as their leader, provide this through a shared vision, you will be better able to shape direction, as well as develop the structures, activities, and people necessary to drive success.
Are you leveraging vision to drive virtual team success?
Please engage the discussion and let us know how you use vision to drive virtual team success. Always feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders, when we will continue to discuss the complexity of virtual teams.