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Recipe for Great Virtual Teamwork: The Right Communications Tools at the Right Time
You've just finished the project kick-off meeting with your new virtual team. Everyone seems clear about roles, responsibilities, deliverables and deadlines. So far, so good.
But as you think about the magnitude and velocity of the work that lies ahead, you realize how critical a well-orchestrated team communications plan will be to getting the work done.
Begin by acknowledging people's differing communication styles. Some people need frequent real-time conversations, while others may require just an occasional sharing of ideas. All members need certain information periodically, but not everyone needs the same frequency or level of detail.
Also remember that team members may span several time zones and have different levels of English fluency, making synchronous participation difficult or impossible at times.
Joining me in writing this edition is Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, principal of Sheryl Lindsell- Roberts & Associates. We offer some simple guidelines to keep in mind as you assemble a communications plan to make it easy for virtual team members to communicate and collaborate wherever they are, whenever they need to.
Face-to-face meetings are a great luxury for many teams that operate virtually a high percentage of the time. Face-to-face meetings are especially valuable when a new team is forming, a high degree of trust is necessary to get work done, leadership of the team shifts, issues are likely to be emotional or contentious, or the project outcome will have a significant impact on the organization.
Simultaneous audioconference can be tricky when members span time zones. Some may have difficulty communicating using a shared spoken language or they're perpetually overbooked or traveling. Conference calls work best for real-time conversations by all or most members, building social capital and trust, brainstorming, problem- solving, and providing quick status reports.
Simultaneous audioconference plus Web meeting tools allow more people to participate fully. This is best used when many ideas are needed in a compressed period of time, some members communicate more readily and easily in writing, anonymity may be important, or output is required quickly.
Asynchronous Web meetings allow participants from anywhere to enter the meeting at a time when it's most convenient. This is best used when you want to collect input in advance (or instead) of participating in a phone meeting, have a better sense of everyone's thoughts and opinions, make it easy for everyone to see where everyone else is coming from (literally and figuratively).
Email is the most common method of communications among most teams, though not necessarily the most effective. This is especially true because email is improperly used too often. E-mail is best used for a virtual team to notify members about important news such as changes to meetings, relevant company news, important status updates, Web postings, or issues that require attention.
Team repository for content and shared resources. This should be some type of clearinghouse or Web-based repository to store, edit, and distribute shared documents. A repository may also house some type of chat forum where members can pose questions, offer ideas or build on solutions.
Instant messaging is best used to get a quick question answered, set up a spur-of-the-moment meeting, discreetly pose questions or share feedback during a con call, or conduct a real-time conversation when a phone connection is impractical or impossible.
Videoconferencing is most productively used when team members are first getting acquainted, conversations lie at the heart of the meeting (versus one-way presentations), or members need to regroup after a change or setback.
Once you and your team have created an agreed- upon communications plan, be sure to formalize it in writing as a quick reference guide for everyone. Be prepared to make revisions as you go along, checking periodically to make sure that the plan still serves the work of the team.
Having a formal communications plan also helps to orient new team members or other stakeholders who will have significant involvement with the work of the team.
Guidelines for Successful Asynch Meetings provides practical tips for preparing and running an asynch meeting to solicit valuable input from your team with minimal time and effort.
Mapping the Best Technology offers a quick comparison of some popular project communication methods.
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