Typically, virtual teams must meet their objectives with expense profiles that differ little from the profiles of co-located teams. They might receive some increment of resources in the form of access to remote communications facilities, and they might even be permitted a little more travel than co-located teams, but such minor advantages rarely meet the real need.
Teamwork, especially virtual teamwork, is only as effective as the strength and health of the relationships between team members can support. Building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships requires at least some face-to-face connection. By the standards of co-located teams, travel budgets that meet the needs of virtual teams can only be characterized as generous.
Rational travel strategy for virtual teams rests on four principles.
- Relationship is the foundation of high performance
- Teammates need not like each other, but they must share a desire for collaborative achievement, which requires the strong relationships that enable a forthright exchange of ideas. Building relationships from the beginning of an effort is the superior approach. With no history, and especially no past difficulty, members can focus on relationship building rather than relationship repair. Email, telephone, texting, and video do not suffice.
- Virtual culture can bridge differences
- Later in the effort, When at home, people tend to interpret
their experiences with each other
in terms of their home culturesafter people have returned home, they tend to interpret their ongoing experiences with each other in terms of their home cultures. What might be an innocent message in the sender's culture might be offensive in the recipient's culture, even when no offense is intended. But when the team has established its own virtual culture, and a strong relationship between sender and recipient is in place, such mistaken interpretations are less likely.
- Problem solving under stress is best done face-to-face
- Teams often solve difficult problems together under the stress of deadlines and budgets. Unfortunately, the challenges of the virtual environment can make solutions especially elusive. When the pressures are high enough, bringing people together face-to-face is the lowest cost path to a solution.
- The value of travel is early delivery
- If high performance teams are more productive, then their contributions to organizational objectives are greater and arrive sooner than would those of lower-performance teams. If travel contributes to performance, then we must evaluate travel costs in terms of early delivery of superior results. Yet, we rarely compare the cost of travel to the value of results. Instead, when we determine the travel budgets of projects staffed by virtual teams, we compare the cost of travel for virtual teams to the cost of travel for co-located teams, or what is worse, to zero.
Before people can care deeply about their shared achievements, their shared relationships must be strong. A generous travel budget might not guarantee strong relationships, but a miserly travel budget almost certainly guarantees weak ones. Top Next Issue
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
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More articles on Virtual and Global Teams:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
- Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
- And on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
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