Monday, September 06, 2010

Virtual Team Building

Social interaction is a fundamental human need. Human relationships and teams bring warmth, humour, energy, a sense of belonging, morale and motivation to the workplace, and it is well understood that team spirit increases productivity. It is no co-incidence that the name given to an incorporated business is a 'company'- and have you ever noticed how often people say when asked what’s great about their company that “it’s the people”?

In the pre-technological age teams were generally co-located. People worked together on tasks or in the same space as others performing similar tasks. The basic ingredient for tem building was present – people were actually together in one place.

In today’s world it’s a different picture. The last 10 years has seen an unprecedented rise in the existence of 'virtual' and 'remote' teams. People can spend the day working at home communicating through technology, or indeed – they can visit an office, occupy a hot desk, spend the day communicating with people in other locations while barely exchanging a word with the people sitting next to them.

The side effect can be an increase in social isolation. There may still be communication in a virtual team – but most of it is structured and work-related. As a consequence, relationship building, a necessary part of team building and team spirit, suffers.

Personal relationships and real teams benefit from unplanned communications – a conversation at the coffee machine, being able to let off steam with colleagues, spontaneous humour and ideas, sharing successes, personal stories and concerns.  Yet unplanned communication or communication ‘without agenda’ is often missing completely from modern technology-enabled teams.

If you lead a remote or virtual team you need to think about how to compensate for the lack of natural human interaction and how to provide new opportunities. Here are some ideas to get you going:
  • The obvious one. Arrange regular formal and informal meetings - there is simply no substitute.
  • Invite  virtual team members exchange photographs and biographies of themselves with each other.
  • Speak with and meet individual team members regularly – especially those who work at home.
  • Set up mentoring and coaching relationships within the team to encourage more one-to-one relationship building.
  • Agree shared tasks and actions – particular in relation to generating new ideas and proposals for the team and the business.
  • Invite team members who don’t know each other well to make a joint presentation for the next conference call.
  • Develop ways of bringing social exchange into the beginning of conference calls.  Swapping stories of weekends or holidays, talking about films, sport or news. Remember that this is important and if you’re the leader you’ll need to take the lead on this.
  • Ask the team to come up with ideas for enhancing team communications.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Inspired Words

I have just been bullied into joining the modern world by my kids and opening up a facebook account. My reluctance didn’t stem from my perpetual technophobia, but rather a suspicion (now confirmed) that I would find this social media utterly addictive. Being an innately curious person, I find it fascinating to delve into what makes people tick and I am particularly interested in the different quotes that people cite as being inspiring. I have dug into all my new found friends’ profiles to find a completely different range of quotes; from Chekhov’s “Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out”, to Einstein’s “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions” to “Life’s an ocean, sail it” (anon).

Any search engine will come up with a multitude of sites for inspirational quotes some of which are subscription based, so it appears that there is certainly a market for keeping us human beings inspired with words. But what is it about language that we find inspiring?

The poet is perhaps the master of inspiring language and as many poets will tell us, language is the ultimate power, influencing our perceptions and amending opinions, which is something politicians and the media also understand very well! Language for them is a palette, a keyboard, a block of marble, a medium from which they can create. Words are not therefore neutral, but have intentions, associations, connections. Rhythm, meter, use of metaphor etc are a powerful means to expression and to creating meaning for the reader. Our ordinary day to day language could be viewed as a stunted, stripped down and abbreviated shadow of what poetry could achieve. So when we read short quotes using extra-ordinary language, it is the difference to our everyday speech that is compelling and engaging for us and the association in our memories which makes it meaningful.

And because we all have different histories and memories we will find different quotes thought provoking, motivational and personal to us – for all sorts of different reasons. I do however struggle with some of the “inspirational” quotes my facebook friends had selected as their favourites such as Homer Simpson’s “You tried, you failed, so the lesson is, stop trying”. But I did particularly like another take on failure from the basketball player Michael Jordan “I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”.

What's your favorite quote?