In the past, it was believed that to be an effective and efficient organization, team members should be located together. However, it is more important that team members understand the project goals and objectives whether or not they interact and communicate in the traditional face-to-face manner.
As a project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that deliverables and milestones are achieved on time and with the utmost quality. There are many moving parts to a virtual team that makes managing them that more difficult. Here are a few tips and techniques to follow:
- Set project objectives and expectations for your team. Clearly communicate the project objectives, schedules and individual roles and responsibilities. It is important that everyone knows what they are doing, how their work contributes to the project, what other team members need from them, and why. Though everyone can work independently, it is important to constantly communicate the team’s objectives. Failure to do so can be catastrophic for the success of a project.
- Set the tone early. At the beginning of the project it is crucial to let the team members know what is expected of them. Status reports, participation in conference calls, hours of availability, and deliverable schedules are essential parts of managing virtual teams.
- Understand and respect different cultures. This is very important if you are managing team members of different religions and/or in different countries. Honor your team members’ right for personal and religious practices.
- Choose the right technology to foster communication. The anchor of every virtual team is the technology used to support communication. As gas prices soar, flying the team in for a meeting each week is not realistic. So in lieu of that, online chat, conference calls and webinars are ideal. There are a number of technologies available such as AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft LiveMeeting, GoToMeeting, and many other tools that support video and Web conferencing. In addition, there are collaboration tools that allow team members to share and collaborate on documents such as Microsoft SharePoint.
- Be specific about time commitments. Never leave something to chance. Make sure that all team members know when deliverables are due. You never want to remind them the day before and have them scramble to get something done before close of business the next day. In these instances the quality of the deliverable almost always suffers.
- Get the team together on occasion. Although it is expensive to bring remote teams together, it is a necessary element to managing a virtual team. In order to build and continue team chemistry, gathering the team together strengthens personal relationships and working partnerships in both the short and long term. Never underestimate the importance of team camaraderie and rapport.
- Three hundred and sixty degree communication. The bottom line is quite simple – get out of the way. Trust your team to make proper decisions by working with each other and not be the bottleneck by insisting that all communication be channeled through you – the project manager.
Keith Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Novel Management Group. Mr. Scott assists in leading Novel in providing management and technology consulting to the public sector. He is a certified project management professional and graduate of North Carolina A&T State and Mercer University.