Humanize Your Virtual Teams
It’s spring, which means commencements and the accompanying speeches delivered by people with varying degrees of fame. One that received less press was given by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the University of Houston, where he said: “The self-made man or women is a myth”. He went on to say “Now, on your diplomas, there will be only one name on it and this is yours. But I hope that…you don’t think you made it this far by yourself. No you didn’t. It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us.”
This is an important message to graduates entering the workforce, as they will need to rely on other people to succeed. It is also a reminder to those who already have many years of experience, and know the trials and tribulations of teamwork. Research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland found that the most important predictor of a team’s success is its communication patterns. These patterns are as significant as all other factors – intelligence, personality, and talent – combined.
At Bridging Distance, we found similar themes in our work. Our research shows that advanced communication dynamics in virtual teams significantly improved their ability to work well together and produce results faster. This is evident in successful virtual teams. By helping build explicit processes and critical skills, members stay energized and engaged in their work together. These processes center on getting the right information to the right people at the right time, via the right technology; it means expectations for posting documents and messages in a repository. This allows each team member to find what they need when they need it, without searching cluttered inboxes at a later date. It also means defining what types of situations are more urgent, and require a more immediate response. Posting updates and status allows communication dynamics to be dialog about the significance of information. These interactions tend to more interesting, and therefore more engaging to team members. It means the right people attend meetings, while those who only need to have updates can confidently and respectfully spend their time elsewhere.
Our research also shows that people with excellent digital communication habits are significantly happier in their jobs, therefore more productive. Managing digital interruptions is key; balancing responding to others versus staying present in the moment means you can be fully attentive to your current activity. Being curious about the environment of others paves the way to learning what you don’t know. Teaching leaders how to foster rapport across Distance enables them to motivate Millennials, communicate with a multicultural team, and respond quickly to change.
Technology dehumanizes relationships; companies would be well served by focusing on re-humanizing them.
Stefanie Heiter is a partner with Bridging Distance, which uses behavioral-based solutions to help companies manage existing or anticipated distance complexities that impact employee performance.