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On a traditional team, trust evolves as a function of demonstrated actions over time. However when working virtually, members typically do not have the opportunity to develop trust in the traditional gradual, cumulative way. The challenge for you, as a leader, becomes how to build trust rapidly across boundaries and borders.

The stark reality is that virtual team members do not usually have time to get to know each other. Typically, the team needs to focus quickly on critical tasks and has little time to build relationships. Despite this fact, virtual teams require a high level of trust in order to be successful.

You can’t compel team members to trust one another.  It’s asking diverse people to protect the interests of their virtual team – initially total strangers, often with culturally different ways of thinking and acting. Because of this, building trust and a cohesive team culture from a variety of national norms, values and traditions can be overwhelming. Without high levels of trust virtual team members quickly lose morale and motivation. As a leader in a virtual environment, you need to foster a sense of trust in each members’ competence and a commitment to team goals. Each member must believe that the entire team is doing their work conscientiously – with the team’s goals at the top of their priority list.

Building trust on virtual teams may not be easy, but it can be done. If the following guidelines are incorporated into attitudes and work practices, trust is likely to emerge:

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In order for virtual teams to succeed, organizational leadership must establish a culture that values teamwork, communication, learning and capitalizing on geographical and functional diversity. The key to developing an organizational culture that supports virtual teams is that everyone across the organization is encouraged and enabled to embrace change and be open to virtual teams right from the start. This begins with senior leadership support and sponsorship – without it,  virtual teams are DOA (Dead on Arrival). It is critical that virtual teams are positioned at the highest levels as vital, value-add resources that provide sustainable competitive advantage for the corporation.

From an organizational perspective, you may want to consider four aspects of leadership that are known to positively impact virtual team performance:

  1. Facilitating open communications
  2. Establishing clear expectations
  3. Allocating resources
  4. Leveraging cultural diversity

Not so different from co-located teams, but considerably more complex in virtual environments. In order to be successful, you will need to have the drive to get things done and impact organizational change.

Not everyone can be a successful virtual team leader. It is a complicated role that involves managing learning and development, cross-cultural interactions and team dynamics (just a few of the intricacies involved in leading teams across boundaries and borders). There are very specific skills and competencies that are vital to engaging this level of complexity. Although there are many important components that will impact your ability to lead successful virtual teams – systems thinking, emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence… just to name a few – there are three qualities that are essential to virtual team leadership: courage, openness and empathy.

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Human Resource policies have a critical impact on virtual team success. They need to support diverse, geographically dispersed teams by integrating and aligning them to recognize, include and reward the people who lead and work in virtual environments. Here are a few ideas to think about when preparing to shift your organizational culture to support virtual teams:

Secure Systems Support

When a virtual team is formed, you, as a virtual leader, and HR (along with IT) need to partner to consider the technology teams will need to be successful. Options must be assessed, justified, approved by HR, and made available to all virtual team members. Coordinate with Human Resources to ensure training on how and when to use these communication technologies is provided to every team member. One of the most important things you can do for your virtual teams is to ensure that they have the technical support they need for working remotely. 

Never forget that IT should be supporting the business – not the other way around

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Virtual Success

June 1, 2022 — Leave a comment

Today, in many organizations, a significant amount of work is done virtually. Even in the most provincial of firms, it is rare to find all team members in a single location. Companies frequently choose people from across various global locations to work virtually in an effort to leverage expertise, as well as to save both time and money. With the advent of worldwide crises and events like global pandemics, the context of work is accelerating even more rapidly.

The structure of global business is moving away from traditional hierarchical multinational enterprises to more flexible international arrangements. It has been suggested that organizations will become more flexible, as well as learning and innovation-oriented, and will be realized through the expansion of global virtual teams (GVTs). These multicultural virtual teams provide diverse skill sets, and members’ diverse proficiencies can be leveraged to improve organizational outcomes. As a result, organizing work in GVTs has become the modus operandi. Team members are globally dispersed and heterogeneous across multiple dimensions. Global virtual teams span multiple countries, time zones, cultures, and languages – and they often rely on communication technology rather than face-to-face interaction. GVTs can be seen as catalysts for new forms of organizing, or perhaps even as organizational forms in themselves, changing traditional ideas about organizational boundaries.

The business justification for virtual teams is strong: they leverage expertise and vertical integration across the organization to make resources readily available, as well as increase the overall speed and agility of the organization. In addition, virtual teams draw talent quickly from various functions, locations and cultures. They reduce the disruption to people’s lives because travel becomes less of a necessity and team members can both broaden and deepen their perspectives (and their careers) by working across boundaries and borders on a variety of projects and tasks.

As a leader of virtual teams, your main goal should be to leverage your human capital to its utmost – as quickly as possible.  

Beware: How you choose to manage this process may be the difference between success and failure

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The Global Boardroom

As you look forward, it is always helpful to look back and gain perspective. Today’s organizations are more global, aligned and proactive than even just five years ago. The rapid pace of globalization and the growing number of collaborative technology solutions has enabled virtual work practices to accelerate – while recent current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, demand that organizations worldwide change the way they engage customers. No longer is it viable for global customer teams to work in a microcosm and expect global customer objectives to be met. The demand for cross-functional, cross-cultural skills from around the world has made working across boundaries and borders a necessity when partnering with global customers. However, collaborative teamwork in global environments typically is not intuitive. It’s far more than dealing with technology and time zones – it is about people and the value that integrated intelligence can bring to the organization.

Post COVID, we see increasing customer challenges as people are getting back to work in hybrid and virtual environments – however, from challenge comes opportunity. As developing strategies for mitigating the risk of customer destabilization overtakes economizing, organizations will increasingly need to leverage strong value chains while stringently considering the bottom line. That balance will drive the success (or failure) of global companies moving forward. Although technology and the digital value chain are on the rise, without the comprehensive knowledge and collaboration of people interacting with global customers, we will continue to struggle to find that critical balance…and global customer opportunities will suffer.

Often, even though organizations may be consolidating for cost management and scalability purposes, the walls of the individual functions, channels and regions have become even thicker. As a direct result, it is harder for you, as a leader, to build end-to-end value chain functionality in an ever-changing global marketplace. It has become increasingly difficult to gain agreement on specific, customer focused initiatives or broader organizational change.

This is not a technology, process or policy problem – it is a people problem:

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All Roads Lead To Rome

November 9, 2021 — Leave a comment

There are several hundred national and regional cultures throughout the world. The enormity of the notion of deciphering the cultural norms of each of these diverse cultures is incredibly overwhelming. A dose of cultural intelligence goes a long way toward facilitating better relationships and reducing misunderstandings across boundaries and borders. Ideally, armed with some valuable information and tools, you (as a global leader) can acquire insight into the diverse cultures within which you interact – making it possible to adopt a cultural perspective toward teams, colleagues and clients that empathizes and is designed to align to the orientations of others.

If we are open to similarities versus differences, we can begin to see that it is possible to view all of the variant cultures through three lenses. These differing orientations will greatly increase the ability to successfully interact across cultures:

1) Task-oriented, highly organized planners (Monochronistics)

2) People-oriented, extroverts (Polychronistics)

3) Introverted, respect-oriented listeners (Reactives)

In a world that has globalized rapidly, the ability to interact successfully with colleagues from disparate cultures is seen not as optional, but as essential.

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