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An Instructional Manual for Virtual Teams

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An Instructional Manual for Virtual Teams

Table of Contents So, You Want a Virtual Team, Huh? 3 Introduction 3 The Look of a Successful Virtual Team 4 The Leader's Relief 6 Establishing Team Purpose 7 The Virtual Team Start-up Meeting 8 Local vs. Virtual 9 Operating Principles 10 The Culture Thing 11 “The Safety Net" – Coping With Virtuality 12 Become An Effective Leader 12 Staying On Top Of Things 12 The Technical Needs of a Virtual Team 13 Learning and Technology 13 Selecting Technology 13 Examples of Real-Time Tools (Synchronous) 14 Examples of Asynchronous Tools 14 The Virtual Meeting 15 Planning Your Meeting 15 The Virtual Meeting, cont. 16 Facilitation Tips 16 Types of Virtual Meeting Software to Consider 16 Managing Issues In A Virtual Team 17 Conclusions and Closure for a Virtual Team 18 References 19

So, You Want a Virtual Team, Huh?
An Instructional Manual for Virtual Teams

Introduction
John is so excited! He starts his new job on Monday. In his new job, John will take on a team for a Fortune 100 company. His new company is growing fast, and to keep up with the pressure of rapid growth, they have been expanding across the country. John is new to this matrix-type work culture and needs to adjust his style of work and leadership to accommodate. How will he setup technology and infrastructures to support his new team? What techniques can he use to build trust, agreement and purpose with his new team? How will he determine what type of team he will need? How can he be an effective team leader in the virtual environment? These are many questions the new virtual leader may have as they enter this new world.

The focus of this manual is to explain how to function in a virtual team. Virtual teams don't just happen by having all team members working remotely. They require structured thinking and careful planning. This manual will address the following but not limited to: ideas, scenarios, real life stories, virtual meeting platforms, technology as well as useable tips.

The Look of a Successful Virtual Team
As Erin Meyer, a writer for Forbes Magazine, points out, “there are more global virtual teams today then every before”. Virtual Teams come in many shapes, sizes and varying degrees of complexity. And it takes a particular skill set to successful manage and/or participate on a Virtual Team. So, what does a successful Virtual Team look like? As Duarte points out, a successful team will maximize strength, address threats and increase speed. Therefore, we will explore some possibilities on how to successfully create a winning Virtual Team. Team member-selection must be done carefully but expeditiously if you want your Virtual Team to be successful. * Maximizing Strength * In order to maximize strength, you have to know where your strengths are as it relates to the team member(s) selected for the project/task at hand. * Do Your Own Research: * Conduct a brief interview with each team member. It is strongly suggested that you interview face-to-face (whenever possible). This will enable you to get a clearer picture of the team member’s personality and tendencies. This also gives you an opportunity to discuss expectations (yours and theirs). If a face-to-face is not possible, at the very least try to communicate via telephone or some type of teleconferencing. * Ask others about his/her work ethic. A reputation goes a long way – good or bad. It is wise to ask the opinion of those you respect professionally who have had past experience with working with said team member(s).

* Capitalize on strengths of team members * Once you know where your team member’s strengths are, take full advantage of that knowledge and know-how for the betterment of the team. You may have to make adjustments within the team to better organize the work depending on your evaluation of the completed tasks. Team member B maybe better suited for a particular task than Team member A. It’s your call. It’s also your responsibility to be observant of the progress (or lack thereof) and to respond accordingly. In a Virtual Team setting, it is easy for team members to get lost in their own responsibilities without taking note of someone’s gifts/talents. This is why it’s so important for the team leader to know his/her team members, to know their strengths and to recognize weak areas as well. Adjustments are not a bad thing – it’s simply going in a different direction than originally intended.

The Look of a Successful Virtual Team, cont. * Address Threats * Once you recognize a problem/issue, it is best to address said problem/issue immediately by simply reaching out to your team member(s). Communication is key in terms of how an issue is address (e.g.: via email, phone, etc) and the language used. A message can easily get lost in translation when communicated through an email. Motivation can also be hampered if the situation is not handled properly. So be careful. * Identify possible solutions prior to reaching out to your team members. However, be sure to include your team members on the final decision-making as it relates to the solution. This will give a sense of involvement and value for your team member(s), which goes a long way.

* Increase Speed * A Virtual Team removes certain restrictions, such as time, availability, etc. Having team members work remotely without having to come together first for every piece of the project puzzle allows for work to get accomplished at a much faster rate. * Limit the number of face-to-face meetings. In fact, you may only need to meet face-to-face once during the initial start of the team. However, be sure to have periodic check-in dates and times to monitor progress. * A Team Leader should always be accessible for assistance or to answer questions about the project. If a Team Leader is inaccessible, this may delay the progress of a given task. If not immediately available, a time should be set up for some discussion. * Take note of preferred communication tools that enables you to effectively and efficiently communicate with your team member(s). * Take note of reaction time * Take note of best working environment
To recap, a successful Virtual Team will (1) be lead by a skilled virtual Team Leader, (2) work at its full potential while maximizing the strengths of it’s team members, (3) recognize trouble and address it quickly (4) communicate effectively and (5) maximize technology to get the best results possible. Working together for a common goal – the ultimate prize when all is said and done is

The Leader's Relief How does one lead a virtual team? In this section, we will look at some key concepts in regards to effective leadership and management. How does a Team Lead properly engage with the team members? What kind of processes and procedures should a Lead consider? How does a Lead establish trust within the team? Finally, how does a Team Lead facilitate performance from subordinates? During the early stages of a virtual team, engagement with team members is of the highest importance. It is also important to have them engage with one another. This will help foster relationships within the team itself and the leadership. There are a few options that can help achieve this. The first, usually most effective, is to have an initial face-to-face meeting. This will allow the members to introduce themselves and start building relationships. It is also a good opportunity for the team lead to be introduced. This is a good first step in building trust and rapport. Most will find that people will be more willing to work with one another after such a meeting takes place. If face-to-face is not possible, it is critical for the Team Lead to find an alternate means of engagement. This needs to be accomplished very early in order to get the team “on the same page” and ready to work with one another. Some options include video conferences, teleconferences, or even email. After the initial meeting takes place, the Lead then must determine how future communication will occur and how frequent. He or she must then consider the most effective and efficient method of communication and apply it accordingly. There is no “one size fits all” solution in this regard. The communication method must be chosen and applied in accordance with the needs of the team. It is the responsibility of leadership to establish processes and procedures on how the team will function as a cohesive unit. These procedures will also outline how work will be accomplished in a virtual environment. The Lead will essentially establish standards for the team to adhere to. For example, what will be the virtual workplace? Do team members need to engage with one another real time when working on a project? How often will progress be assessed? The team lead must also establish suspense’s in order to keep the team on track. This will also give people incentive to accomplish their assigned tasks in a timely manner. Trust will be the foundation in which the virtual team will be built. The team will come to rely on trusting one another in terms of their respective work performances. The beginning of trust building will occur during the first meeting. A great deal of responsibility will be placed on the team lead. It will be up to the lead to establish a proper trust building environment. They will also have to pair the right team building technique, to the task at hand. Some considerations will include cross cultural boundaries, previous work assignments, and instruction provided by previous team leads.

Establishing Team Purpose
From the onset of many team’s formations, the purpose is usually at the root of which they derive their formation. That purpose is rooted in the meaning of which keeps them together, through the challenges that plague every team as they form together. Ultimately the intent is what leads to the initial transaction of teamwork. This intent is what carries them through these challenges and drives their purpose towards a commonly shared goal or belief. This intent overcomes the personal ambitions that could derail the team away from their purpose, overcoming individual success. The onset of that intention that leads to team formation is what creates the purpose. Once communicated from the leader, whether appointed or naturally selected, becomes the cohesive agent for the team.

Team purpose is critical due to the fact that all work will ultimately be derived from it. Necessary tasks will be identified and assigned to subordinate personnel in accordance with team needs and the talent that is available. With purpose, the individual team members can come together and work towards a common goal. As previously discussed, the team members must begin to overlook personal ambitions and start to see themselves as part of something bigger. When this occurs, the individuals will start to work towards that common goal. This goal will originate from the actual purpose of the team. The purpose will also provide a reason for all the team members to relate to each other in some fashion. Trust and cooperation will start to build and will serve to facilitate greater work performance towards the desired end state. With direction, comes purpose, and that purpose will yield the necessary work performance needed to accomplish the work at hand. As the virtual team progresses, it will be important to remember the original purpose of the team. Often, a team can become “off track” and start to become unproductive towards its desired goals. There will be times that a team must be directed back towards its desired original purpose. This is where a team lead will step in. It is up to the lead to maintain proper direction and ensure that the virtual team is on a correct course – A course that will eventually yield the results that the various stakeholders are looking for.

The Virtual Team Start-up Meeting
The strong universal recommendation to all virtual teams is to always have a face-to-face start up meeting. (Leading Virtual Teams to High Performance, 2008-2013) A face to face start-up or kick-off meeting provides the new team with the opportunity to connect on a more personal level and is the foundation for team building. (Watkins, 2013) Team members will get to see firsthand other member’s communication style, which can help resolve some communication issues before they begin working on their project. A face to face start up meeting also provides the perfect venue to share the vision, and set the goals of the virtual team. (Watkins, 2013)

Virtual Team Pros and Cons
Why would a company want to use virtual teams?
Pros
Cost is a factor in almost all business decisions. Virtual teams can offer cost saving solutions across the board. Being virtual, some or all members may not require office space, some members may reside in a lower cost of living area, and some members may be contractors. These are all examples where companies can lower the cost of doing business and being virtual helps achieve just that. (MSG Experts, n.d.)
Leveraging global talent is another key advantage with virtual teams. Companies can cast their search net far and wide to find talent and increase human capitol. (MSG Experts, n.d.)

Cons
Virtual teams need to communicate and if not already set up and in use, the cost of the technologies and maintenance to communicate can be expensive. (MSG Experts, n.d.) While this is a con, larger companies already have communication technologies in place, so the cost may not be a factor.
Conflict with team members can be an issue, especially when tasks are time sensitive or urgent. In a virtual team, cultural differences may lead to conflict among members. (MSG Experts, n.d.) Time differences can also lead to conflict, it’s important to be cognizant of the time zones of all members when scheduling meetings and setting deadlines. (Reiche, 2013)

Operating Principles
Working on a team involves becoming interdependent on others. A person could attempt to do all the work themselves to complete a project, but in doing so, areas of the project are bound to go lacking. Operating principles are like pieces of a puzzle – if all the pieces are in place, then nothing will go lacking. We previously talked about a foundation – let’s start there and work our way to building a successful Virtual Team. Establishing the right operating principles is key and here are some tips on how to accomplish this:
Setting Ground Rules
It’s essential to set some ground rules before you begin working on your project. These rules should be fair, clear and concise, not to mention fundamentally relevant. Once the rules are discussed and accepted, it’s up to the Team Leader to hold each team member accountable for following the rules. Rules are not established to hinder the team, but ensure cohesiveness and progress.
Establishing Protocol
Options should be clearly outlined to address questions or concerns, delays, complications, etc. The Team Leader is responsible for setting up these protocols before the project gets started to prevent further delays in the future. An example of this might be: “Please forward all questions/concerns to ____via email. A response will be given within 24 hours”. When expectations are in place, confusion is eliminated for the most part.
Effective Communication
Always keep the lines of communication open. If a team member fails to check-in, it is the responsibility of the Team Leader to use all possible means of communication to connect with the team member. It is always good to touch base routinely just for general purposes to ensure progress.
Effective Problem Solving
Identify, Evaluate, Address – Here are 3 simply steps to remember when a problem arises. Don’t be afraid of the problem – act aggressively, swiftly and purposefully to get to speedy yet conscience resolution.

The Culture Thing
Culture is derived from different outlooks. Culture is something that is derived from one’s society, workplace, and other subgroups as well. This may include subgroups from their own work environment. This is an important consideration when creating a virtual team. How does a team lead take different cultures into consideration? Also, how does a lead take advantage of different characteristics exhibited by different cultures?
From the very beginning of virtual team building, the team lead must consider the attributes of the particular cultures that he/she will be recruiting from. These particular attributes can be either strengths or weaknesses. It is important to be able to differentiate between the two. The lead must also consider the subcultures that exist with in their own organization as well. For example, there may be subcultures that are better suited for some tasks but not others. When these particulars are considered, the lead can recruit in accordance with the virtual team’s work requirements. When team members are chosen in accordance with the team’s needs, one will have the best personnel to fit the tasks at hand. To be able to choose the most suitable personnel for particular tasks is one of the key advantages of a virtual team.
Cultural considerations also assist in the execution phase of a virtual team. Different cultures present different advantages/disadvantages to different tasks. The team must be able to identify which personnel are best suited for their given tasks and assign accordingly. For example, long range goal development might be best suited for members from predominately Asian cultures rather than European or North American cultures. One also must remember the weaknesses associated with certain cultures. An example would include cultures that allow for more open communication flow rather than cultures that tend to prohibit it.
When taking culture into consideration, the team should not consider one to be superior to the other. Rather they should strive to see the particular attributes associate with the respective culture and assign work appropriately. Cultural attributes should be thought of as potential strengths rather than future weaknesses that will plague a team’s efficiency. The critical component to consider here is how to pair the right personnel to the appropriate task at hand.

“The Safety Net" – Coping With Virtuality
Feeling threatened and alone is a common "virtual" feeling. Developing a "safety net" that facilitates a sense of security can assist with faster response times as well as aid in the push for progress when times are challenging.
The Virtual Team Safety Net is weaved by the Project Leader. It is a great responsibility but very necessary and could either make or break the success of the team.
Wikipedia defines a safety net as “a net to protect people from injury after falling from heights by limiting the distance they fall, and deflecting to dissipate the impact energy.” The Team Leader must provide this safety net for its team members in order to protect the team as a whole. Virtual Teams can be vulnerable when it comes to interpersonal communication, sensitivity to collaboration and cohesiveness just to name a few. For this reason, a Team Leader must literally become a protective parent for the team members and here’s how:
Become An Effective Leader
A relationship must be formed to facilitate a level of comfortability, paving the way for a team member to freely and comfortably approach the Team Leader with ease and not fear of judgment or discipline. The slightest bit of hesitate could cost the team time, money and progress.
Staying On Top Of Things
A Team Leader must always be attentive to the project and the team members’ progress. This is not to say that a Team Leader needs to micro-manage. However, there should always be check-points or milestones to measure progress.
Protect Your Team
There may be times when a team member or members feel they are separated from the rest of the team – not just physically, but emotionally and/or mentally. This is when a Team Leader must create an environment that encourages cohesiveness within the team. A team may need to come together for some team exercises or simply a meeting to apply more partnership glue. Motivation becomes difficult but could be facilitated by bringing everyone together. Remember, this is a team effort and when one member of the team suffers, the project as a whole suffers as well.

The Technical Needs of a Virtual Team
Paul Trevithick is quoted as saying “We always get the technology right and the sociology wrong”. (Leading Virtual Teams: Managing When People Are at a Distance, Slide 5) In some opinions, virtual teams are 90% about the people and 10% about technology. Leading virtually requires understanding people, culture, organization and collaboration, but it is about using the right technology.
Learning and Technology
When looking at appropriate technology, it is important to not go into a virtual team with the assumption that the teams are all comfortable with the tools. It is important to invest in training/learning early on to learn the “how” to use these tools and activities so the team can become familiar with the features. There are many different kinds of technology available today that can augment audio conference with tools to increase participant engagement and interaction. To get great results from our virtual meetings it is important to match the tools and technology to our meeting objectives. As virtual meeting facilitators we need to be aware of the full range of technology tools available to us and become practiced and proficient in their use. There is no short cut here – we need to do the research and hone our skills. We need to be as adept at using our virtual meeting tools are we are with flip charts and PowerPoint, so that we can focus on the content of the meeting and not worry about the technology
Selecting Technology
What level of interaction does your meeting require? While low interaction can be simple emails or phone calls, you may need to brainstorm or really collaborate. In this case, more robust tools like web conferencing, video sharing and whiteboards would be ideal.

The Technical Needs of a Virtual Team, cont.
Examples of Real-Time Tools (Synchronous) * Instant Messaging * Phone Call/Audio Conferencing * Screen Sharing- share your application or share your entire desktop * Whiteboard and Input Tools- allow participants to draw, write and contribute at the same time * Integrated Audio- Some tools now offer integrated audio that allows the meeting to call the participant. * Polling- the Polling feature allows the host or presenter to conduct a survey or questionnaire with attendees during an event. This is used to build interaction and engagement as if you were asking a question in a face to face meeting room. * Video Conferencing- Simulate the face to face experience with integrated video and video sharing. Many tools even support switching technology that will allow the video presented to change based on who is speaking.
Examples of Asynchronous Tools * Email * Consider limiting individuals that absolutely need to have the information on the email. * Only individuals addressed in the 'TO' field are required/expected to respond. * Individuals addressed in the 'CC" field are not needed to respond * Establish agreements to move to other forms of communication if needed * When in doubt, have a live conversation * Calendaring and Scheduling- Keep all team member calendars up to date. Use a calendaring and scheduling system to clearly show time available and block time due to meetings. Consider using a calendar to display team events or milestones (birthdays, time off, etc.) * Social Networking - member sites usually that anyone can join and create their own public or private profile. Members build networks with other members, sharing information and referrals. (Examples: LinkedIn, Facebook, Yammer, WordPress, Twitter, Youtube) * Document collaboration services- Document and file collaboration are the tools or systems set up to help multiple people work together on a single document or file to achieve a single final version. (SharePoint, Office360, GoogleDocs, Box)

The Virtual Meeting
A virtual meeting is an event or series of events where participants join in from multiple locations. A virtual meeting may be held “real time” where everyone is participating as the same time, often by teleconference or video conference. A virtual meeting may also have asynchronous components where participants are working at different times appropriate to their time zone or schedule.
Planning Your Meeting
It is important for your team to be motivated to participate. Your goal is to use technology to help you facilitate the meeting and take advantage of all the features. Here is a checklist of things to consider while facilitating your next meeting.
Planning and Facilitating a Virtual Meeting – Checklist 1. What are your objectives? 2. What would my agenda be if this were a face-to-face meeting? What is the level of participant interaction? 3. What can we do asynchronously? What needs to be real-time? 4. What technology tools best supports our need? What do we have available? 5. What roles does each team member play?

The Virtual Meeting, cont.
Facilitation Tips
Engaging participants consistently is a challenge in running effective meetings. It is very difficult to stop people from multi-tasking on a teleconference. As facilitators our role is to make virtual meetings as short and focused as possible with just the needed people involved. The following are a few tips to helping facilitate a meeting. 1. Plan a viable agenda 2. Use technology effectively- There are many different kinds of technology available today to increase participant engagement and interaction. To get great results from our virtual meetings it is important to match the tools and technology to our meeting objectives. 3. Prepare participants with necessary pre-work- Make your time together efficient and valuable. Set meeting expectations and provide materials ahead of time. Prepared participants are more engaged and your meetings will be more effective. 4. Keep participants focused and engaged

Types of Virtual Meeting Software to Consider
Most of these virtual conferencing tools will require participants to install an add-on to their device. Most will work from desktop or mobile device, and from most browsers. * Skype – free video conferencing software * GoToMeeting/Webinar- Organize and attend online meetings by enabling coworkers, customers and prospects to view any application running on your PC. * Citrix Webex - Integrates data, voice, and video within a standard web browser so you can hold meetings over the Internet. * Adobe Connect- Securely share presentations and multimedia right from your desktop, and get feedback from hundreds of participants

Managing Issues In A Virtual Team
As issues arise, it’s important to be transparent about the issue and the handling of issues in a virtual environment. Each team member has valuable knowledge, and a good team will actively seek that knowledge when issues arise. Managing the issues isn’t really different than in a local environment, but it’s easier to exclude members in a virtual one. It’s always best to openly discuss all issues so everyone can contribute, gain, and share knowledge.
Using online discussion boards is one way to openly discuss issues. Online discussion boards allow each member to vet to the issue, discuss the issue, avoid false consensus, and foster transparency. (Ferrazzi, 2012)
As issues are posted or arise, it’s best to assign a point person for the issue. That person will see the issue through and gather all feedback, then report back to the team with the collective outcome. (Ferrazzi, 2012)

Understanding cultural differences is a key component in managing issues in a virtual team. Communication that is acceptable in one culture may be impolite in another. (MSG Experts, n.d.)

Conclusions and Closure for a Virtual Team

We learned in this guide that business justification of virtual teams is strong. It is safe to say that virtual teams will likely be the norm for many organizations and the need to work virtually will continue to grow. If not already, many leaders will eventually have the opportunity and challenge of managing a virtual team. This guide was designed to help you navigate this ever changing scene.
It is clear that the efforts and talents of virtual teams are critical to success and performance in today’s marketplace. By adopting the strategies outlined, you can work at a distance and overcome performance barriers that result when your team crosses time, distance, and culture.

References
Best Web Conferencing Software | 2016 Reviews of the Most Popular Systems. “Best Web Conferencing Software” | 2016 Reviews of the Most Popular Systems. Capterra, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. <http://www.capterra.com/web-conferencing-software/>.
Duarte, Deborah L., and Nancy Tennant. Snyder. Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques That Succeed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. Print
Ferrazzi, K. (2012, November 19). How to Manage Conflict in Virtual Teams. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2012/11/how-to-manage-conflict-in-virt/
Leading Virtual Teams to High Performance. (2008-2013). Retrieved from Lindsay McKenna Limited: http://www.business-change-management.co.uk/workshops/teams/virtual.html
Lipnack, Jessica. "Leading Virtual Teams: Managing When People Are At A Distance." Leading Virtual Teams: Managing When People Are At A Distance. NetAge, Inc., 2008. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
Merry, Deborah. "Email Etiquette 10 Simple Rules." Web log post. Https://www.linkedin.com. LinkedIn, 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2016. <https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140427120046-115716357-email-etiquette-10-simple-rules>.
Meyer, Erin. “Leadership: The Four Keys To Success With Virtual Teams”. http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/19/virtual-teams-meetings-leadership-managing-cooperation_print.html.
MSG Experts. (n.d.). Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Teams. Retrieved from MANAGEMENT STUDY GUIDE: http://www.managementstudyguide.com/virtual-teams-advantages-and-disadvantages.html

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