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:
- Dispersity Adversity
- Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse
and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face.
Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Virtual Presentations
- Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations,
often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires
an approach tailored to the medium.
- Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions
no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.