How to Build a Strong Virtual Team

By Kathy Miller on May 23rd, 2014

HiResAre you leading a team with members working in several different cities? Or states?  Or countries?  Are some of your team members working out of their homes, perhaps?  You are not alone.  Many of us are forming and leading teams virtually!  Here at Miller Consultants, we have been working through virtual teams for over twenty years; and at the risk of sounding like an old-timer, we were pioneers.  When we started functioning “virtually” very few others were trying it.  Technologies available to us at the time consisted of telephones and fax machines, nothing else.  We couldn’t even send files via email.

Today we have all kinds of technological bells and whistles to support virtual teamwork.  And yet building relationships and creating a sense of community “virtually” is still quite a challenge. Smart leaders know that they will need to lead their virtual teams differently than those they manage face-to-face.  Of course we can simulate face-to-face meetings by using web cams and virtual meeting platforms.  However, far too many of us still rely heavily on telephone conferencing only for conducting our meetings.  While meeting over the phone works for information-sharing, this tried and true technology isn’t the best for building relationships.  Virtual meeting platforms, when used creatively, can enable you to build trust with your team more quickly and thoroughly.  Moreover, you can design meetings that truly engage your team members when you use the virtual technologies available now.   Here are some tools which we  use on a regular basis:

  • Create visual focus to jump-start your discussions.

Recently, I tried to engage my team in a conversation about their strengths.  I introduced the discussion by asking them an open-ended question about how they viewed their own assets.   Unfortunately, like so many questions we tend to throw out into our meeting cyberspace, that question fell flat.  Even when I called on team members by name, they seemed to be reluctant to answer the question.  (Of course since we weren’t using web cams, perhaps they were answering their emails instead!).  I decided that I had to get more creative.  So, in the next meeting I presented them with an image-based poll.  I showed them a series of icons and asked each of them to choose the one that best represented how they viewed their own strengths.  I used their icon choices to begin a conversation about their strengths.  The subsequent conversation was rich and fun!

  • Simulate a face-to-face meeting environment.

Invite people to meet over breakfast — or perhaps just over coffee.  Send them a gift card to a coffee shop where they can purchase their breakfast and bring it with them to the meeting.  Turn on the web cams and enjoy breakfast together virtually while you meet.

  • Allot time at the beginning of the meeting for people to talk informally with each other.them to the meeting.  

In a face-to-face environment, your team members are likely to wander into the meeting room and chat with each other casually before the meeting officially begins.  Relaxed conversation of that type is not as easy when people enter a virtual meeting room.  The “chat boxes”, no matter how convenient, just aren’t as personal.  So open the meeting with a somewhat structured “informal” conversation.  Ask each person to describe something positive that has happened in their personal worlds over the past few days.  We have found that this brief, affirmative conversation sets an upbeat tone for the rest of the meeting.  In addition, it provides the opportunity for people to strengthen relationships with one another.

I have listed above just a few of the many tools and techniques that can help you build community and engage team members virtually.  Technologies are in place now!  It is up to you and me – – every one of us – – to use some imagination and make the most of those tools.  And, by the way, even our face-to-face meetings can be more engaging too, if we also approach them creatively!

Join us for our Virtual Teaming Webinar to discuss these tools and others!  Register Now.