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.