How do you build team spirit if you are not physically in the same space?

According to a 2015 Gallup study, 37% of employees report having worked remotely. Technology allows us to do business from a home office, a hotel room, or anywhere there is cell service or Internet.

What impact does technology have on building virtual teams and collaborative work relationships?

 

Communication Matters Even More

Have you ever run into a colleague after an awkward email exchange? You might not know if they’re upset about the conversation or not.

My coworker wrote me an email about something I overlooked, and she typed, “It’s ok, I’ll handle that.” Did she mean, “I’ll handle that…smiley face,” and everything is fine? Or did she mean, “I’ll handle that…angry face,” and she’s upset that I didn’t get it done?

When you or your teammates are working remotely, neither of you have the body language or tone of voice signals that help you interpret how the other person is feeling. Without that context, it’s easy for each of you to misread the other’s texts, emails, and comments.

We already know that communication is hugely important at work. When any portion of your team is virtual, that communication matters even more. Your task is to over-communicate for clarity. You also need to craft your message to effectively reach your audience.

 

DISC Tells You Who You’re Talking To

I’ve written before about how DISC can support your team building efforts, but it’s even more important when you have a virtual team. The Communication Tips guide and the Communication Checklist are like the Secret Decoder Ring that used to come with your breakfast cereal. They are tools, lenses, that help you interpret your teammates’ emails and other messages.

For instance, a High-C teammate may send a terse, task-focused email with little preamble (and few emoticons). They are not being rude—they’re just lasered in on the task. A High-D may send a similar-looking email, but it may come off as more aggressive, like the decision is already made and no further input is welcome. It’s not intentional, but it can still put people off.

On the other hand, a High-I teammate may send a longer, more rambling email that is friendly and positive. You may have to read it twice to figure out the main point. And if there is a complaint or criticism in it, it may be so masked by positive language that you are unsure of what is being corrected.

Knowing DISC gives you an edge on understanding who those messages are coming from and how to read and respond.

What About Virtual Team Meetings?

Because I worked internationally for 15 years, I’ve spent countless hours on conference calls, both audio and video. It’s cheaper than flying everyone to the same location. And it takes less time than driving through traffic. On the other hand, conference calls can be tremendously frustrating when you’re trying to hear from everyone and actually do business remotely.

Click here for the funniest (or most cringe-worthy) video on botched virtual team meetings.

One personality-related challenge of virtual meetings is who talks and when. Team members who are slower to speak up (or don’t like interrupting) are likely to sit in silence and frustration. Team members who are quick to speak may jump in too fast any time there is a quiet spot—even for a second. In a face-to-face meeting, you can cue people with gestures or facial expressions (either to speak up or to hold their thoughts). Online, that is much more difficult to do.

Again, knowing the DISC styles of your team preps you to have a more effective meeting. Once everyone knows each other’s communication preference, everyone can make an intentional effort to be inclusive.

 

Be Intentional with Your Virtual Team

After working on the same team for over a decade, you would think we all knew each other pretty well. And we did. But that was because a regular part of our team practice was to purposefully take stock of our preferences, styles, and tendencies. Over the years we used several different assessments, seeking insights to improve our relationships and communication.

That intentionality was necessary for the level of performance we expected from our team (and the level of results we achieved). It’s even more critical when your team is separated physically but still needs to work collaboratively to get results.

What tools are you using to build your virtual team?

 

Download the Communication Styles guide.

 

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Dr. Shero believes that leadership can be learned and that the best organizations intentionally develop leadership at every level. Leaders have the privilege of influencing other human lives for the better. That's why Phillip cares so much about learning to lead well and helping others do the same.
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