Running effective virtual teams

Having a happy and effective team is the steam behind the success of any organisation. Whether you are all together in person, or spread across remote locations as many of us are currently working, it’s important that you’re feeling content.

The factors that make an effective team are the same, but there are a different set of  challenges that organisations need to overcome when part or all of their teams are working remotely.

There has been a sharp increase in virtual teams due the imposed COVID19 work from home enforcements. Some employees have thrived working in virtual work environments,  others have seriously struggled. Despite considering a full or hybrid model of work from home post-pandemic, organisations need to consider solutions to help support and manage team dynamics to not only protect productivity, but also employee well-being and mental health.

Communication challenges with virtual teams

Virtual teams communicate and collaborate at least partially by electronic means. And in there often lies the challenge in creating and maintaining an effective virtual team since with this form of communication team members:

  1. Are less likely to share information 
  2. Have a harder time interpreting and misunderstanding the information they receive
  3. Often give delayed, or no feedback at all
  4. Find it harder to spot non-verbal cues such as tone of voice, emotional warmth and attentiveness

All the above have the potential to add to the difficulties in sending clear messages and being able to understand your team members. These problems also have the potential risk of negatively influencing the three key components of effective team dynamics. The three elements that go towards effective team building are social cohesion, building trust and effective information-sharing and are dynamically interconnected.

Social cohesion in virtual teams

Social cohesion / relationship building is the magic glue that makes a team ‘better together’. Social cohesion is directly related to a team’s results. It occurs when team members like working together, feel close to each other, get along well and are friendly. This form of relationship building is much easier to facilitate in person than in virtual settings. It’s even harder to achieve between people that have never met face-to-face and developed a pre-existing relationship.

Building trust in your virtual team

Trust is another social process that makes teams super effective. With trust you have a two-fold effect – people both know and feel that they can trust other team members. Virtual teams (and in fact any type of team) high in trust outperform those with low levels of trust. They share more information, they’re generally more committed to an organisation and to each other.

But virtual team members need to be able to rely more on trust to work together effectively than their face-to-face counterparts. Out of sight out of mind, springs to mind. Trusting each other means team members can be more understanding with the potential misunderstandings that can easily occur in virtual teams.

Effective information sharing in virtual teams

To be effective teams need to harness individuals strengths and knowledge to the whole team’s benefit. They can do this most effectively by productively sharing information with each other.

Information sharing helps teams to establish a common understanding of their tasks and goals as well as helping to build trust and social cohesion (hey – see points 1 and 2 above – it’s a win-win-win!!).

However, even though info sharing is sooo important for team effectiveness, virtual teams are less likely to share information than teams meeting face-2-face. Think ‘water-cooler moments’ or in the case of the UK the ‘tea-break’.

Even more importantly the type of information that is least likely to be shared in a virtual team is the information that most helps to build dynamic team effectiveness and the thing that really holds a great team together. In a virtual team dynamic because there may be a lack of social cohesion or trust information around working together and about social issues falls to the preference of focusing on work based issues – solving problems or tasks.

In conclusion, if your organisation values it’s teams and if they plan to increase the amount of virtual work settings it’s really important that leaders and HR professionals focus on solutions to avoid the negative impact of working virtually as a team.

Unlock the Value of High Performing Teams

Our module Unlock the Value of High Performing Teams might be of interest to you if you’re looking to improve team performance in a fully remote, hybrid or face-to-face work setting.