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How to Run High Performing Virtual Teams

By Tim Sarchet

Managing virtual teams is becoming the norm. Only one person in my team sits in the same office as me (and even then only 2–3 days per week). Many people I work with are on different continents and time zones. There are some people on my team that I’ve hired virtually, work with on a daily basis, and have never met face-to-face.

Managing a virtual team is fundamentally the same as managing a team you sit in the same office with. Success depends on many of the same factors; good communication, clear expectations, clear roles and correctly aligned incentives, and strong relationships.

But virtual is different. Some things are dialled up, some are dialled down. And if you don’t get it right, things can go south much more quickly than if you were all sitting in the same room, easily able to hash things out.

In developing our virtual teams module we came up with some guidelines that all well-performing virtual teams tend to follow. These aren’t rules, just questions to ask that will help ensure that your virtual team is performing at its best and avoiding common pitfalls.

Here are three of them:

1. Expectations

High-performing virtual teams know their purpose. As a team, they know what their objectives are; and, as individuals, they each know what their role is in meeting those objectives. Key questions to ask:

2. Norms

One of the biggest challenges in virtual collaboration is establishing the formal and informal “rules” that guide the way we collaborate. High-performing virtual teams articulate the formal rules at the outset and are flexible enough to evolve over time as informal norms of behavior emerge. Key questions to ask:

3. Relationships

There’s no such thing as a virtual water cooler. We can rarely grab drinks after work with our virtual team members. And yet, this informal relationship-building is an essential part of our work. In its absence, we have to find other meaningful ways to build virtual relationships. Key questions to ask:

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