High Performing Virtual Teams Have 8 Key Attributes
Almost every startup is a virtual team these days, since most don’t start out with dedicated office space, and some or all members of the team work part-time or out of their own home. It’s a small world, so these team members may not even be in the same town, or the same country. Outsourcing is just another extension of the virtual team concept to people you don’t even know.
Working effectively with a virtual team of any sort has many challenges. How do entrepreneurs establish and maintain rapport with people they rarely see, and team members who have never met? How do they keep track of what everyone is doing and assure effective communication between all team members?
Experts on this subject, including Yael Zofi, in her book, “A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams,” has identified eight key characteristics of high-performing virtual teams that I have observed, and every startup founder should understand and enable:
- Members exhibit a global mindset – they look outward, not inward. Effective virtual leaders widen their focus from the local to the global, which implicitly creates an environment of respect. Respect engenders buy-in, without which members can’t take ownership of work product and work toward a common goal.
- Members share responsibility for achieving the mission. High performing teams have a sense of purpose where members internalize their piece of the mission, thereby transcending the isolation that defines working in a virtual environment. Team members develop an understanding about their mutual dependence to achieve objectives.
- A culture of openness facilitates trust and authenticity. Effective founders work to create and maintain an environment of team trust to defuse miscommunications. They focus on behaviors, not on personalities, because they know this engenders trust. Then they “say what they mean and mean what they say” to model authenticity.
- Members engage in meaningful communication with each other. High-performing virtual teams establish and maintain standards on frequency and modes of communication, and hold members accountable for acting accordingly. They also regularly use synchronous communication at critical points to speak with each other.
- An easy flow of information exists using various forms of technology. Everyone must have access to appropriate technology to enable reliable, current exchanges of information. The amount of “pushed” information (unfiltered e-mails and phone calls) to team members is lower than “pulled” data (e-bulletin boards and intranets).
- A conflict management mechanism. Conflicts are inevitable, and when even simple miscommunications don’t get acknowledged and fixed, trust gets eroded. The founder or leader must actively engage team members early, and follow up to ensure appropriate resolution. When this happens, lengthy energy-draining confrontations are avoided.
- Work systems produce deliverables within defined constraints. When team members are geographically dispersed, a rigorous effort is required by all team members to coordinate and align components of critical work systems to meet deadlines within time and budgetary constraints.
- Members have a positive “can do” attitude that spans time and distance. They must all assume their efforts will lead to success. When conflicts and tensions arise, as they inevitably do, members hold these situations within the context of the larger picture and look to quickly find solutions, rather than assign blame.
Technology has made virtual teams an everyday reality for entrepreneurs. Your challenge is to reduce the “virtual distance” between team members to zero, using personal communication, appropriate technology, and clear goals to maintain member satisfaction, collaboration, and innovation. Have you measured the virtual distance to your team members lately?
Written by Martin Zwilling
You might also be interested in
Co-founder Equity Split: A New Framework to Objectively Divide Startup Ownership and Get Back to Building a Business
We’ve just released our free Co-founder Equity Split tool. It’ll give you a fair and objective recommendation about how to divide your startup’s ownership, so you and your co-founders will have a sensible, real starting point for this notoriously hard, crucially important conversation.
Many startup founders find themselves lacking clarity and direction when it comes time to divide their
With startup growth up 61% since 2014 and more investment programs emerging, it can be overwhelming for founders to know just where to jump in. As the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet, MassChallenge has helped 835 startup companies around the world, who have raised over $1.1 billion in funding and created over 6,500 jobs. We have seen startups at
Update 2017: To help you understand how your startup will look to investors according to this methodology, we’ve created a fundraising feedback tool that will give you investor-level insight into your startup’s performance. In just about 15 minutes, it will tell you how much money your startup is likely to raise, where you can find that capital, and what to
After less than a year, Glassbreakers is now a team of 10, we have thousands of active users on our free product, we’ve expanded into enterprises with paying customers and raised over a million in seed funding. After a few of my Glassbreaker matches inquired, I started to reflect on what it’s like to build a startup
The median investor looking at your proposal is in her 40s. Her eyes are going, not to mention her brain. I look at a lot of spreadsheets and analytic reports, and way too many are difficult to read and therefore hard to understand.
In an effort to make my life easier, I’ve summarized here the steps that will