Human Resources

Create a Successful Virtual Team: Six Lessons

How can CUs ensure their virtual teams produce the desired results?

February 17, 2011
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1. Focus on people issues

Creating successful teams depends largely on team member interaction. Virtual teams must to compensate for the inherent lack of human contact by supporting team spirit, trust, and productivity.

They can do so by:

  • Developing a team web page where virtual team members can share information and get to know each other;
  • Creating ways for team members to interact and communicate informally. Use real-time communication tools such as instant messaging or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter to create a virtual water cooler;
  • Building a collective online “resource bank” to share information and experiences;
  • Finding ways to “spotlight” team members;
  • Send electronic newsletters or updates to the team; and
  • Celebrating team successes.

2. Create trust

Task-based trust differentiates top-performing teams. Establish trust by bringing team members together face-to-face early on in the team’s formation. Devote part of this meeting to building relationships and learning about team members’ capabilities.

Other ways to build trust:

  • Empower team members to make and act on decisions.
  • Help people manage conflicts, not avoid them. Conflict that isn’t addressed may escalate.
  • Choose a team leader that models and reinforces these positive behaviors.

3. Embrace ‘soft’ skills

Lepsinger and DeRosa found that virtual teams that have been through team-building and interpersonal skill development activities perform better than those that have not.

Use team-building sessions—ideally conducted at an initial or subsequent face-to-face team meeting—to help team members strengthen working relationships and create team momentum that can enhance team effectiveness.

Assess development needs for team members and team leaders, and conduct skill-building focused on these areas. Reassess these needs over time.

Next: Watch out for performance peaks

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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