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Category Archives: Virtual Team

Practical solutions to reduce time barriers between your Virtual Teams


DifferentTimeZonesI have seen various virtual teams that fails to accomplish their mission due to lack of communication. Virtual teams have many challenges like culture differences, language barriers, lack of personal touch, etc. But the ‘time difference’ is one of the most important challenge that a virtual team faces. As a part of my existing job, I manage various individuals from 3 completely different locations. And I have faced similar situations while managing these individuals. Through my experience, I have developed few practical solutions to resolve these challenges, and I would like to share those tips through this blog.

Define rigid working hours: I am neither a micromanager nor I believe in monitoring my people. But sometimes it is very crucial for a team to follow a strict schedule. Asynchronous communication channels like SMS and e-mails will only resolve few issues. But if you are working in a fast paced environment like me (Agile or Scrum approach), then it becomes very difficult to communicate through these asynchronous channels of communications. This approach makes it possible for me to meet with each and every individual at least 2 times a week (through video conference). From past few months, my team in China comes early every 2 days during the week and my team in USA stays late for those 2 days. This arrangement makes it easier to work with these people and it also helped me to increase my team morale.

Establish rules for e-mail communications: In the past, I have been in various situations when I will get an e-mail from my China team at around midnight in my time zone, and I won’t have any opportunity to reply to them until the day after. Thus, if you are working in a virtual team then you should be establishing few rules for your e-mail communications. For example: Tell your remote team in China to notify you regarding any urgent issues/concerns before midnight your time. Obviously, they will not be able to identify all the issues every time before you go to sleep, they might encounter few problems after you go to sleep. In that case, make sure that you always task them with some kind of other work, which is independent from that particular task. This will give them something to work on, before you can actually resolve their problem. This approach had helped me tremendously to increase the productivity of my team.

Make information go public: In most of the cases, people depend on each other for the information. Most of the professionals will take an educated decision in a given situation, if they were provided with the appropriate information. I made most of my information public in such a way that my team can have access to that information all the time. For example: during every meeting, I take meeting notes and prepare a list of action items. I started putting that information to our SharePoint site. This helped my team to have a baseline information and having the right information in their possession. This approach has reduced long chain of e-mails to get the same information that they would have got otherwise.

I hope, these tips will help you to reduce various time and communication related challenges with your virtual teams. Please feel free to comment on my blog, if you have any other suggestions for improving efficiency of your virtual teams. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

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What would you do when your e-mail backfires?


In today’s world, almost everyone communicates through e-mails, SMS, or twitter. While these communication channels have made it faster and easier to convey our messages, it took out the human element from the communication. Thus, sometimes our messages are interpreted differently. Hence, we need to make sure that our messages are conveyed to the right people, and their interpretation of that message is same as our interpretation of the same message.

If we fail to recognize this then we can end up in a big trouble. For example: In one of my MBA class, I work with a group of four people. One day, I wrote an e-mail to my group regarding some work assignment. And I used one of my team mate’s name (say Mr. X) as an example to ‘not do something’. Since, I knew him from my other classes and we had close friendship; I thought he will understand my humor behind this analogy. But that e-mail backfired on me. On the other day, Mr. X wrote me a long e-mail explaining, how I offended him. And how he is unhappy about that e-mail.

Obviously, I took corrective action to explain my situation and apologized to him for any unintended behavior from my side. That’s where I got an idea about this blog. I hope, my suggestions in this blog helps you in better communicating with your peers through e-mails, SMS and Twitter. Following are few tips that I would recommend you to follow:

Use of smilies: If you are trying to be humorous in your e-mail then use smilies after your statement. Smilies will go a long way in explaining your stand behind that statement. In my situation, if I would have used a smilie after providing a bad example of Mr. X, nothing would have happened. Mr. X would have understood my message and he would have considered that message, as humorous instead of offensive.

Proof read your e-mail: Make sure that you proof read your message, before you send it to someone. If it is a message about ‘corrective action’, then please proof read it thrice (if possible). E-mails about ‘corrective actions’ are already very sensitive, and you don’t want to overcomplicate it by sending unclear messages. Also, try to put yourself in to the shoes of the reader, and read the e-mail again. Don’t send any e-mails that will offend you, if you were on the other side of the spectrum.

Ask for feedback: Always ask for the feedback. You can use wordings like – “Let me know, if you need anything else from my side”. Feedback mechanism will not only make sure that your message is conveyed properly but also provide an opportunity for the receiver to provide their feedback. Since, I always use this mechanism in my e-mails, Mr. X felt comfortable enough to confront me regarding my e-mail. This gave me an opportunity to explain my position. Thus, don’t ever forget to ask for feedback.

Apologize for miscommunication: In the worst case scenario (like me), never hesitate to apologize. Few words of apologies go a long way. Don’t just apologize by writing something like “Sorry” in your response. Write a brief e-mail regarding your statement, and explain how he/she might have misinterpreted that. This will give you an opportunity to explain yourself and strengthen your relationship with the receiver of that e-mail.

I hope, these tips will help you to better communicate with your team. And if you have any better suggestions, then please feel free to share it with me. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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How to resolve 3 key challenges of a virtual team?


In today’s global business world, there are higher chances that you will end up leading a virtual team at some point in time. Though basics of leadership remain the same in a virtual team, however, the members of a virtual team work at different times and different places. This will make your leadership tasks much more complex and difficult. In this blog, I will talk about 3 key challenges of virtual teams and my practical approaches to resolve those challenges.

Building Trust:

PROBLEM: As with all teams, trust is a key factor in determining virtual team’s success. Building trust in a virtual team, where people speak different languages, come from different cultures, and live in different time zones is very challenging.

SOLUTION: These challenges can be resolved by different approaches. The approach that works for me is to use of facial pictures in e-mail exchanges. This will help you a long way by putting a human element in to virtual communication and reminding people about the person who sent this message.

Taking ownership:

PROBLEM: The virtual nature of the team and its assignment can make the virtual team’s project seem less real and pressing, with the serious consequences that team members fail to take ownership of the project.

SOLUTION: I might not have the perfect answer to resolve this issue, but here is what I do: Lay down team’s mission and explain the reasons behind that mission. In this way, they can connect their goals to this mission and I get more buy-ins from them. Then I try to share control over defining team’s objectives and process. This helps me build the climate of self-determination and ownership.

Maintaining visibility:

PROBLEM: “Out of sight, out of mind” may explain why it is easy for a virtual team to become isolated and forgotten by the organization. Thus, maintaining visibility becomes a real challenge in a virtual team environment.

SOLUTION: Again, I might not have the perfect solution for this challenge, but here are few steps that I follow:

  • Invite key decision makes, stake holders and project managers in the weekly conference call.
  • Include these key decision makers in some of your important e-mail chains.
  • Publicize your achievements through group e-mails and team’s website.
  • Follow up with key stake holders regularly to check up on the project progress and get their feedback.

I hope these tips help you in resolving your day-to-day challenges of virtual team management. And let me know, if you have any other suggestions. I am always looking for your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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3 simple tips for empowering your virtual team


Wow! What a busy last month? With holiday season approaching, I wanted to make sure that I finish all of my work before people leave for their holiday break. Just a few months back, I worked with a company in India, where I worked as a liaison between the company and ERP consultants to implement a new inventory management module. This month, my biggest challenge was to train their personnel in using the new system with the help of those consultants. The road was full of obstacles with many challenges of virtual teams, but I somehow managed to do finish that task on time. And with this blog, I will discuss some of the methods that I used to make my virtual teams succeed.

Set clear expectations: To get your teams off to a running start, you must set clear expectations. Before coordinating the training effort, I had created a training plan, which was far more detailed than my current MBA classes. It clearly stated roles and responsibilities of each person involved in the training with the training schedule and a back up plan. This plan really helped me in reducing those redundant e-mails and other wasteful coordination efforts.

Pass on the torch: In real life, it is not a good idea to keep all your eggs in one basket; in virtual team environment, it is not a good idea to have only one contact person. Thus, my policy is not to allow team members to dominate a team by force of personality. I like to rotate team captains. In my team, every member will rotate leader and follower roles. This mechanism helps me to get to know each individual, and helps each team members to practice their leadership skills during the project.

Give tools to communicate: I believe that in a team project, team members should have as many tools as possible to communicate with each other. When I got the names of team members in my team, I distributed their e-mail addresses, skype id, and telephone numbers to everyone. I also establish team specific synchronous chat rooms in which conversations are automatically archived, giving all members a record of discussions. I also provided team with a private asynchronous message board. I would recommend you guys to use tools like Google Groups, Windows Live Space (Skydive), etc.

I hope my article was helpful, and I am eager to hear your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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Tips to Manage Teams of the Future


TeamOfTheFutureIn my last blog, I talked about how we can communicate effectively in a Virtual Team. But I realized that I didn’t answer the most basic questions of virtual team management – how can we better manage Virtual Teams? Where should we start? What do we need to know to be successful?

There are many blog posts which addresses this issue, but none of them explicitly say what I am going to say now. I personally think that 80% of your problems comes up in a virtual team are due to people problems, and only 20% of problems concern with utilization of technology. Thus, I will address people issues first. In my past experiences, I had an opportunity to work with remote teams on various occasions. Trust me, it was very challenging at first. Time zones and languages were only few barriers that I had to face. But somehow, I figured a way out to manage remote teams efficiently. I will share those experiences through this blog post.

One of the most important thing that you want to do is to set up your communication plan. This can be an outline for what needs to be communicated, how it will be communicated, who needs the information, when do they need it, and what happens if communication breaks down. This sounds very easy at first. One would say – you can just use e-mails. But trust me, without a communication plan, you will be lost. If you don’t have this plan defined properly, it will take more than 2-3 days just to find out what are you going to accomplish this week. And before you know, there comes a weekend. Thus, this plan is the “key piece” for managing virtual teams. The communication plan should also outline meeting structure, such as – when are they needed, what will be their purpose, in what format will they be held (chat, video conference, teleconference, etc), who will be in control of the meeting, who will be responsible for taking the notes and publishing the outcome.

Second most important thing that can help you is to have an outline of the decision making process. How, as a group, will you make decisions? What is your back up plan to make a decision? What escalation processes do you have to resolve issues, if team doesn’t agree on one idea? Also, having conflict resolution strategies help a lot. We used to talk to each other personally (on video chat), and that was our conflict resolution strategy. But you can use whatever strategy fits for your team. After you have defined and documented these information, you want to distribute your goals, roles and responsibilities equally – by taking buy-ins from each and every member in the team. So, there is no confusion at the end. If you want to go further then you can also ensure fair work distribution and define different leadership levels. We used to use an arrangement where we would rotate the roles of meeting facilitator and meeting leaders. That gave me the opportunity to empower other team members. But again, you can use your own style for defining different leadership roles.

I hope this information have helped you. Let me know your feedback regarding my idea. Thanks for reading my blog. Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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