MIT researchers found that there are three characteristics that allow virtual teams to outperform co-located teams. The three characteristics are: having team members who communicate effectively, participate equally, and are good at reading emotions.
They also found that having women on teams helps because women, on average, are better than men at reading facial expressions, responding to emotions, and showing empathy.[i]
Using video-conferencing technology is critical for successful virtual teams because it enables team members to see faces and eyes, and cue in on the emotions of other team members.
What also makes teams effective, whether a team is virtual or co-located, is what I call “the basics”:
- Clarity about the mission of the team.
- Clarity about how their work aligns with the company’s strategies.
- Operating norms for member responsiveness, raising and resolving conflict, sharing data and reports, using budget and resources, escalation routes to higher-level management sponsors (for when the team gets stuck), and making decisions.
Tsedal Neeley, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, offers another key component of successful virtual and global teams. She cautions leaders who set up virtual or global teams to remember that remote team members may believe that their opinions and ideas will not be given equal weight, even when they have critical insights into technology, marketing, local laws and culture. Based on her 15 years of consulting and research, Tsedal Neeley has developed the “SPLIT Framework.” SPLIT stands for the five components of: structure, process, language, identity, and technology—each of which can be a source of social distance for team members.
Her framework presents a concept she calls “I am here for you.” Team members in remote locations need frequent contact from their team leaders. This can be accomplished through a brief phone call, e-mail, or text. What’s important is to convey that their individual contributions matter, to ask for their specific input on a critical decision, thank them for their input, or to recognize a birthday or national holiday.[ii]
In summary, here are the six steps team leaders need to take to enable their virtual teams to perform better than co-located teams.
- Put the basics in place (outlined above).
- Ensure that members are able to contribute equally to the team’s discussions, rather than having one or two people who dominate.
- Select team members who can read complex emotional states on people’s faces – especially from other people’s eyes.
- Ensure your teams have the right balance of women and men. Women, on average, are being better at reading and acting upon emotions than men.
- Use video-conferencing technology for meetings.
- Practice Tsedal Neeley’s “I am here for you” concept and frequently contact your team members.
Have these steps worked for your virtual teams? Join the conversation.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.US.
[i] Alex “Sandy” Pentland (April, 2012) “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” The Harvard Business Review.
[ii] Tsedal Neeley (October 2015) “Global Teams That Work,” Harvard Business Review.