Truth or Myth: High Performing Virtual Teams are Like Unicorns

Hawaii Business Magazine, March 29, 2021

In 2012, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 66% of multinational companies used virtual teams. In 2020, that number skyrocketed due to the pandemic’s work-at-home orders. Virtual work environments are not new, and it looks like they are here to stay.

There are two schools of thought on working virtually. Either, people are super productive or high-performing virtual teams are like unicorns, hard to find.  The truth is, virtual teams can be high-performing if you have intentional leadership. 

The key elements to sustain a high performing team are to build trust, manage conflict, gain commitment, and focus on collective results.  Today, let’s focus on trust and accountability.  

When virtual teammates have the chance to connect informally like they did at the water cooler, relationships form and trust builds.  Trust is the foundation for accountability.  It is very difficult to have an accountability conversation with someone you barely know.  Give this simple trust-building idea a try. Host a weekly 30-minute team coffee talk at the start the day, no business, just connect. 

Let’s turn our attention to accountability.  Here are 3 practices any can leader initiate:  

  1. Clarify roles and responsibilities.  In a team meeting, ask each team member to list responses to four categories: “What I lead,” “What I challenge,” “What I contribute to,” and “What I could mess up on.” Team members edit and add to each category and open up dialogue for clarity on their role.
  2. Create structure with metrics.  Develop metrics for each job focused on results, not time at the computer.  
  3. Allow for autonomy of time.  When working from home, the rhythm of the day differs for everyone.  Use a team calendar system to manage productivity and see each other’s availability.

In a nutshell, virtual teams can be high-performing but it won’t happen by accident.  It takes intention to create this culture.  

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