Good teamwork starts with setting up rules of engagement up front.
There are lots of things you can’t control when you work in remote teams. However, you can set the tone early on in a project as to your expectations regarding working relationships, workflow process, communication protocols and the impact of each team member’s contribution on the team as a whole. Not only does this proactive move give the team a structure from day one, it also provides a chance to open a dialogue before problems arise and tensions between team members occur.
Build in a “Rock Band” moment from the beginning.
Humans lack empathy for strangers, in fact, strangers cause us stress. However, research by Dr. Jeffrey Mogil, the E.P. Taylor Professor of Pain Studies and the Canada Research Chair in the Genetics of Pain at McGill University suggests that one way to reduce that stress and increase empathy between strangers is to have strangers play the computer game Rock Bank for just 15 minutes. And while having your team play a computer game may not be practical, looking for alternate ways to break down barriers will provide the same result. By building an emotional connect early; teams are more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Tackle problems early before things get out of hand.
When people work together, it’s inevitable that at some point there will be tension. Dealing with it as soon as you sense something is off means it’s easier to handle. Contacting a team member and asking them if everything is ok – letting them know you sense something is amiss and you are worried about them is a much easier conversation. Also, it lets your colleagues know you notice things and you aren’t afraid to reach out and address things. Do this a few times and it becomes a part of the team dynamic.
Teach the team to self-manage and address tensions early.
We always build it into our initial team communication protocols. We call it the “24-hour rule”. If a team member finds themselves fretting over an interaction with a colleague and they can’t get past it, the team member is obligated to contact that colleague and have a quiet, private conversation to work through things. Team leaders serve as coaches/mentors for less experienced team members who may be unfamiliar with the process. Over time, we find this helps foster a team culture that a) can self-manage through a tense moment and b) gets used to openly discussing hard topics without losing team trust.
Taking a proactive approach to team interactions will head off some of the misunderstandings that are inevitable when teams work together.
Do you have special techniques you’ve used to with your virtual teams to set them up for successful interactions? We would love to hear about them!