Setting Up a Virtual Team

The early phase of development of a virtual team is crucial for its success. Just like the foundation defines the strength of the building, the steps involved in establishing a virtual team goes a long way in contributing to its successful functioning in later stages. The two basic questions give skeleton to this phase - ‘what does the team stands for’ and ‘how will the team achieve its goal’. This article aims to evaluate this in greater details and provide practical insights to the team leaders who have been given the task to set up a virtual team.

So we start with first finding answer to the question of ‘what does the team stands for’. This involves creating a unique identity for the team with which all the team members can relate to.

  • Give a Name to the team - It is advisable to give a formal label that clearly describes the function of the team. This gives a face to the people both inside and outside the team. You can even a short abbreviated name for the internal conversation purposes to give a more informal feeling.

  • Describe the Purpose of the team - Though there is a pre-defined organizational reason for the creation of virtual team. But it is also important to restate this reason in a more tangible form to the team members. This should be explicitly put across to each team member so that all of them are at same page and equally motivated and committed to this purpose.

  • Put Together a Team Directory - To reach out to the other colleagues, one needs to know their contact details. Therefore you should create a catalogue with information on each team member’s location, time zone and contact details of the communication media they would use, example emails, phone numbers, instant messaging or Skype id etc. This should be shared with all the members.

The second phase involves answering the question of ‘how will the team achieve its goal’. This involves action planning to align the team on how to meet their assigned tasks effectively. A well-defined and understood action plan sets the team in motion guiding them in right direction.

  • Lay down Process Flow with Task Interdependencies - Break down the vision and mission statement into tangible goals and further into simple tasks with key result areas that are easily measurable. It is best to make use of a flow diagram to explain this along with representing interdependencies in this. This gives a clear picture of how to reach the goal.

  • Scheduling Timelines - It is always easier for most of us to track our performance against time. A rough estimate of the timeframe for each task must be given.

  • Clear Roles & Accountability - It is best to compile a responsibility matrix which shows which members will be involved in each of the task. This will avoid ambiguity and help to bypass the unnecessary involvement of those who are not required. For successful completion of each task one member should be made accountable. This promotes shared leadership and eases the management burden.

  • Team Reporting Structure - Though virtual teams favor flatter structures but for the purpose of smooth work flow, it is necessary to outline the task & process leadership both vertically and horizontally. This will inform people who they should reach out to in time of need.

  • Develop an Effective Media Plan - Since physical distance is the basic characteristic of the virtual team, it is highly recommended to develop a media plan with which explains frequency of interaction, type of media to be used and comfortable time frames (w.r.t. time zone differences).

Once both the phases are complete it is best to launch the virtual team with a kick-off or introductory meeting. All the team members should be involved and the use of real-time media is most suitable for this purpose. All the documents such as team directory, process flow, task interdependencies, media plan etc should be made available to all the members. This meeting should involve a brief introduction of each member and their background, an ice-breaker or team building session, explaining the context of the team in the organization and setting the ground rules with the help of above documents. Before closing the kick-off meeting, do a quick review of expectations, make sure that all members can access the project web portal and meet IT security requirements, if any, and set up the tentative schedule for next meeting.

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