An Engaged & Inclusive Virtual Team
In a session with a client this week, we explored the pitfalls and opportunities of creating a more engaged and inclusive virtual team environment by understanding generational differences. The focus of the discussion was how the team could maximize the strengths of the different generations in order to improve their project management skills, team collaboration, communication and engagement.
The client group we were working with is highly specialized, made up of employees with deep expertise and spread out across the province. They need to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to a crisis and to deploy resources immediately. Working in a virtual environment can be challenging since it requires that we spend more time communicating, building trust and connecting than perhaps if we were in a cubical next to our colleagues. This means that when a high pressure situation arises, the team will need to be as high performing as possible.
What is a Strong Team?
What we know from the research – and have written about in our book Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills – is that when working in a virtual environment, employees require a team that demonstrates:
These factors form the basis of a strong team and must be present if projects are going to be completed on time, on budget and exceeding client expectations.
In addition, support tools must be provided to virtual team members through:
- Just-in-time training
- Accessible and responsive leaders & team members
- Appropriate and easy use of technology
While all of these elements are important regardless of if you are working virtually or on-site, they become more important when working across time zones, multiple locations and without face-to-face direction from leaders.
Taking a Generational Approach
Team collaboration can be improved in a virtual team environment by taking a generational approach to:
When leading a project, it’s important to think about how generational differences and strengths can impact the project. At the concept phase, it’s important to identify who will be engaged in the project, what skills they possess and the role each team member will play. By asking colleagues and employees how they want to contribute, team engagement can be improved because employees can self-select the role they play. In addition, colleagues may share insights on skills and knowledge that we didn’t know existed on the team.
Identify what tools the team will use to stay connected and how frequently communication will occur. Each generation has preferred key messages, mediums and follow up expectations. Understanding what those needs are becomes increasingly important when working virtually. We coach our clients to leverage live, interactive technology (chat, video, group brainstorming tools, etc.) as much as possible to simulate a face to face environment. Technology today, even on a smart phone, can help employees quickly connect “face-to-face” and improve communication by providing body language and tone, which is lost through emails, text and chat mechanisms.
Leaders who manage virtual teams must spend more time being accessible, creating a fun and casual environment and providing timely feedback. If a Gen X leader is managing Baby Boomers, they need to be aware of how to adjust their leadership style to ensure that they engaging their more experienced employees. They also need to consider the ways they can mimic a ‘face-to-face’ relationship in a virtual way.
For example, the leader can carve out time at the beginning of each team conference call to touch base with team members on what is happening in their lives outside of the office. This would be done naturally in the lunch room, conference room or water cooler, so it’s important to provide a way for everyone to connect informally before diving into business. Gen Ys will also expect their leader to provide regular, on-going feedback which may require a leader to text employees short, quick messages with positive feedback and recognition.
By understanding the unique needs of virtual teams and integrating a generational perspective to leading, managing projects and communicating, team collaboration can be improved. As we connect through technology more and more, understanding how to build trust, be flexible and provide support to our colleagues will be required in order to have high performing and engaged teams.