Delivering global alignment: how to get the best out of your virtual teams

 

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In today’s digital world, the opportunities for unlocking the potential of global teams are greater than ever before. Collaboration technologies have given rise to radical new ways of working and brought the prospect of truly dynamic and responsive virtual teamwork tantalisingly into view.

Global organisations are increasingly looking to harness the skills, experience and energies scattered across their workforces and focus them on individual projects. With rewards on offer including reduced costs and enhanced creativity, decision making and knowledge exchange, the stakes are high.

Yet even with the latest technologies at their disposal, many businesses struggle to keep their virtual teams on track. Breakdowns in intentions, workstreams, responsibilities or deadlines can have a domino effect on trust, motivation and engagement, leaving them to fall far short of expectations.

So how do you give your virtual teams the best shot at success? At Ludic, we are leading the way in cloud consulting solutions and have a wealth of experience helping global organisations navigate complex transformation programmes. This expertise, together with the world-class research behind our SmartLab collaboration platform, has helped us identify six steps you can take to enable your virtual teams to work better, faster and more creatively – and bring the holy grail of global alignment within reach. 

1. Define goals at the outset – and keep them in focus

Robust virtual teams are intensely outcome focused. A strong shared vision for why they’re coming together and where they’re going is the glue that binds them and guides all their activities.

Defining goals and intentions at the outset – and keeping them in focus every step of the way – provides a practical framework against which individuals’ roles, responsibilities, areas of expertise, interactions, tasks and deadlines can be clearly set out.

2. Adopt a structured approach to tasks

Providing virtual teams with a structured sequence of tasks not only helps keep their eye on the prize but, in our experience, can also be remarkably energising. For example, our SmartLab software enables teams to easily adopt a “design thinking” approach by guiding them through a structured series of rapid virtual workshops based on a suite of decision apps. We have found that this accelerates project delivery times, inspires creative problem solving and is a highly engaging way of working.

3. Be proactive in sharing and managing knowledge

The exchange of knowledge and skills on a global level is one of virtual teamwork’s greatest assets. To make the most of this opportunity, identifying and sharing essential knowledge and resources must be a priority.

Giving participants insights into their colleagues’ skills and expertise can also flag up areas of mutual interest and lead to cross-pollination of ideas and working styles, while reducing isolation and duplication of work. Encouraging team members to be proactive by commenting or clicking “like” on resources shared by others is a simple way of boosting creative thinking and fostering a shared understanding of how challenges can be met.

4. Nurture social connections

Trust is the oil that greases the wheels of any collaborative endeavour. Without trust, productivity, engagement, innovation and motivation all suffer. If you’ve clarified goals and roles, set guidelines for how your team will interact and made essential knowledge accessible, you’ve won half the battle.

But trust also springs from the more nebulous emotional and social connections between team members. To encourage these connections, virtual team leaders can: make use of social media to build and maintain relationships; enable participants to share personal profiles with details of their backgrounds, skills and aspirations for the team; present opportunities for informal discussion and chat; and use games to create shared social experiences and forge bonds.

5. Make use of nudging

At Ludic, we’ve found nudging to be highly effective with virtual teams. Our community animators (“nudgers”) not only provide practical support, with timely reminders and notifications of tasks or events, they also keep teams on track by starting new discussions, adding or commenting on resources and spotlighting milestones. This encourages others to follow suit, ensuring all new initiatives and contributions receive feedback, subtly reinforcing desired behaviours and helping keep participants aligned and engaged.

6. Create space for “messy talk”

The value of what Professor Gina Neff of Oxford University calls “messy talk” should not be underestimated. This refers to the sort of conversations that might take place in an office tea room – fast, informal, “active” chat which, unconstrained by time or specific tasks, can lead to unexpected insights. For virtual teams, social media can again come into play here, providing the opportunity and impetus for “messy talk”. Informal chatrooms and discussion forums enable this type of tacit collaboration, with participants studying or adding to threads when they have time. They also have the added advantage of capturing these interactions in a useful and searchable way.

Take the first steps towards getting the best out of your virtual teams by finding out more about Ludic’s cloud consulting solutions and our SmartLab collaboration platform.