Having recently spent the day reconnecting with fellow Co-active Coaches at the European Co-Active Community Day in London, I was once again reminded of the value of face-to-face interaction particularly for team members who work virtually.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Ten years working for multinational financial service companies taught me the value of working from home. In particular the joy of starting your day without the undeniable negative impact of London public transport on your blood pressure. I certainly had countless days of getting into the office following rush hour, feeling like I’d already had a long day and should really just head back home. Without spending more time on the perils of the underground, and aware that the memories alone are already getting my heart racing, let’s get back to the topic at hand; high-performing virtual teams focus on connection.
At the community day event, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a number of coaches who went through the intensive Coaches Training Institute (CTI) six-month training programme with me a couple of years ago. We had since kept in touch through LinkedIn, occasional phone calls, Facebook post likes, twitter feeds etc. but one lunch meeting last week created the strongest connection we have had since the last time we saw one another.
So, what is it about face-to-face connections?
This has clearly been playing on my mind even before the community day. I recently had another opportunity to meet for the first time the other 14 virtual team members of the 8-month Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) coaching certification programme which we started in January. Prior to the residential event, we had spent 90-120 minutes every Wednesday on a conference call with a combination of tutorials, group supervision of our individual team coaching sessions, triad groups for coaching role-play scenarios etc.
To help build a connection, the programme coordinator had kindly created a virtual photo circle page with every team member’s picture so we could put faces to names.
Halfway through the programme, we came together in Washington DC for a three-day residential meeting designed to provide true experiential learning where each team member had several opportunities to play the role of a team coach (of our virtual team) or be part of the virtual team being coached. The aim was also to strengthen our connection as a team so we could have an even better programme experience for the last 4 months of our time together.
Despite our 4-month experience of operating as a virtual team, the first day of meeting one another face-to-face revealed that we had not truly gelled as a team. The day started to expose assumptions we had made about one another, quite a few of them very wrong. As the real people behind the voices and faces on paper started to emerge, the connections and the disagreements that emerged seemed more real. What a revelation!
By the second day, discussions and debates were even more animated; people started challenging one another like never before etc. There was true, genuine connecting!
By the end of the residential, we truly felt like a team! We had gotten to know one another on a different level and we were looking forward to our conference calls! Now, nearly three weeks after the residential, we’re all back in our respective countries, back to our weekly conference calls, and those calls are already noticeably different. More productive and more real!
What are the lessons here? As you focus on creating a more flexible workforce or on outsourcing roles to other locations, pay attention to personal connections and ensure opportunities for these connections are provided where they are non-existent, or that ways to maintain them are considered as part of your planning process.
Six tips to help you build stronger connections in your virtual team:
Do not put off getting your team together. Plan an team off-site to take place off site! Dedicate some time to team building activities and do not underestimate the value of physically having everyone in the same room.
Where possible, take advantage of video conferencing equipment to capture other non-verbal ways for connection (body language, eye contact etc.).
Get personal during team meetings. Allow opportunity for people to connect as individuals, share their stories etc. In an attempt to maximise the time set out for meetings, many teams insist on creating a clear agenda for every meeting. Factor in time for stories, banter etc. by ensuring that your meetings are not so packed with agenda items that people have to rush from one to another.
Ensure that you have laid a solid foundation for a successful team. A clear team vision, team identity and team agreement on how to get things done all help towards building that foundation.
Do not underestimate the collective wisdom and creativity in your team. Engage your team members by providing an opportunity for them to collectively build or solidify your team vision, identity and agreement.
Co-design how to stay truly connected as a team, whether virtual or not.
If you are in the process of building a virtual team or would like to check in on your team’s connection, our Team Dynamics Assessment is a great starting point for assessing how engaged and productive your team is. The results of your assessment provide a road-map for designing a Team Dynamics Coaching plan that is fit for purpose.