Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video Tools for virtual teams, part of Communication Tips Weekly.
- Whether you're responsible for a virtual team or you're a member of one, I'm sure you recognize how relationship-building in day-to-day exchanges are completely different from the face-to-face interactions of a physical workplace. There's no watercooler, there's no coffee pot or common kitchen area where colleagues in physical offices hang out and build camaraderie. As efficient and flexible as virtual teams are, creating team engagement can be a challenge.
My skills of virtual camaraderie were put to the test this past month, when I was given the assignment of teaming up with two colleagues I had never met. We were all contractors of the same company, but we lived in three different countries. The original conference call confirmed the parameters of our assignment, and left me with the task of building rapport and trust with these two new members of my virtual teams. Here are some ideas that worked in my situation and may help you as well.
Schedule a "get to know you" meeting. This happens naturally in face-to-face scenarios, but has to be choreographed for virtual teams. The kick-off meeting can focus on everyone's background, what skills they bring to the project, and personal information on education and family. Before my first meeting, I did some research on social media and other industry sources so that I could prepare to carry the conversation and ask open-ended questions. Use video conference at least once.
It was easier for me to work with my colleagues once I knew what they looked like, and had a chance to observe their body language. Nonverbals together with the tone of voice carry over 93% of a message sent, so having that information about a person, even if it's only once, can give you a better sense of their energy and their style. If your team cannot accommodate that synchronicity, assign pairs to connect online before the first meeting, and then assign topics of discussion.
Create virtual disclosure. A virtual team doesn't have a chance to create small talk around visual cues, so as trite as it may sound, watercooler conversations that relate, maybe, to a fitness wristband or an athletic team sweatshirt don't happen with virtual teams. If a team can create a common virtual page for information sharing or a team social media page for photos and personal updates, then team members have material for rapport-building conversations, which will in turn increase camaraderie.
Encourage short personal updates. The start and end of a meeting is a good place to interject open-ended questions, such as "What's everyone planning for this weekend?" or "How is your week going so far?" or "What are your plans for the holidays?". As prescribed as these may sound, discussion openers will create that watercooler chat effect, and will help virtual teams engage more with one another. My international colleagues and I had a personal kick-off meeting, and we met at least once on video conference and continued the common topic conversations in later asynchronous email communcation, but when we finally met to work together in a country new to all three of us, I felt like I knew them and I had started building some trust.
I even teasingly started my part of the conversation wearing a large pair of sunglasses that one of them sported on his Skype profile page. That funny gesture on my part broke the ice, and continued to build rapport that led to a successful completion of our project. Whether your virtual team has only a couple of members or a dozen, use these strategies for trust-building and engagement in order to help make the process enjoyable and the work more productive.
- Understanding introversion and extroversion
- Persuading people
- Negotiating your needs
- Making small talk
- Saying no
- And more…
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