Creating High Performance Virtual Teams

Many people experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance.

To some, the term high performance virtual team is an oxymoron. The possibilities of high performance usually evaporate somewhere near the middle of the kickoff telecon. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises can be enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. If a virtual team can deliver the goods within 2x the estimated budget and schedule, some teams and some managers are grateful for almost adequate performance.

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams

Many organizations have created high performance teams, but fewer have been successful at creating high performance virtual teams. Virtuality imposes special constraints that we must address if we want to achieve high performance.

The good news is that the problem isn't that virtual teams are virtual. Rather, the problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. This is good news because we can change our approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams.

This program gives team leads, project managers, and sponsors the tools and concepts they need to help their teams achieve high levels of performance, and to help them maintain high performance once they achieve it. This program is available as a workshop, seminar, or clinic.

This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • Do we really need to meet in person for a kickoff? What happens if we don't?
  • What is the effect on virtual team effectiveness of the so-called lean-and-mean policies?
  • Compared to co-located teams, why do virtual teams take so much longer to accomplish even the simplest things?
  • Do we really have to spend money on travel to support a virtual team? Isn't the whole point to avoid travel?
  • Why are project managers who were successful managing co-located efforts so much less successful managing virtual efforts?
  • Why do our software virtual teams keep asking for videoconference capabili-ties? They aren't working on anything you can actually look at…
  • Why is conflict on virtual teams so much more difficult to deal with, and so much more common, than conflict on co-located teams?

Learning objectives

Participants learn to appreciate the true challenges of operating virtual teams. Most important, they learn strategies and tactics for dealing with these challenges to create high performance. And many of these techniques also improve the performance of co-located teams. Learning objectives include:

  • Why virtual teams face more complex operating environments than do co-located teams
  • Appreciate the budgetary and schedule consequences of merely-adequate performance in virtual teams
  • Understand the need for a basic realignment of expectations and opera-tional practices with respect to calendars and wall-clock time
  • Learn how we can increase effectiveness by treating as a project the de-ployment and maintenance of a team's communications substrate
  • How to run a virtual meeting effectively
  • Understand the subtleties of remote facilitation
  • Understand the elements of Simons' Four Spans model of high performance

Program structure and content

We learn through presentation, discussion, exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We can tailor a program for you that addresses your specific challenges, or we can deliver a tried-and-true format that has worked well for other clients. Participants usually favor a mix of presentation, discussion, and focused exercises.

Introductory unit

A thorough understanding of the costs and benefits of high performance provides a sound basis for any organizational commitment to high performance.

The program begins with an introductory unit that has two fundamental components, followed by 14 specific tactics for enhancing virtual team performance. The first introductory component is a survey of the conditions necessary for enabling high performance, using the Four Spans model of Robert Simons. Understanding what is required is a sound basis for modeling the costs of high performance.

The second introductory component is an exploration of the benefits of high performance, including eliminating the costs of mediocre or poor performance. This discussion provides what is needed for attendees to assess the fidelity of their own organization's financial models of the costs of lesser levels of performance, or to build or enhance more faithful financial models.

14 Tactics for achieving high performance

Some of the tactics covered are appropriate for some organizations and not others. For example, the needs of a very large organization differ from the needs of a small organization. But based on attendee interest, tactics covered might include, for example:

  • Re-evaluate the net benefits of running lean and mean
  • Adopt Zulu time as a standard for multiple-time-zone teams
  • Recognize that virtual teams need generous travel budgets
  • Conduct kickoff meetings face-to-face
  • Provide too much videoconference capability
  • Treat the team's communications substrate as a project
  • Provide professional testing services for virtual meeting communications platforms
  • Provide professional remote facilitators
  • Provide professional translator and interpreter services for multi-lingual teams
  • Provide round-the-clock communications technology support for the virtual meeting substrate
  • Accept that virtual leadership requires a unique skill set
  • Include people with technical, project management, and technical support expertise on the contract negotiation team
  • Include in contracts constraints and penalties regarding staff and resource availability
  • Include contract provisions regarding retrospectives

Whether you're a veteran of virtual teams, or a relative newcomer, this program is a real eye-opener.

Learning model

When we learn most new skills, we intend to apply them in situations with low emotional content. But knowledge about how people work together is most needed in highly charged situations. That's why we use a learning model that goes beyond presentation and discussion — it includes in the mix simulation, role-play, metaphorical problems, and group processing. This gives participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations. And it's a lot more fun for everybody.

Target audience

Decision makers at all levels, including managers of global or virtual operations, sponsors of global or virtual projects, business analysts, team leads, project managers, and team members.

Program duration

Available formats range from 50 minutes to one full day. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience.

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