Are You Supporting Your Virtual Teams?

virtual conferencingI recently picked up a copy of Harvard Business Review’s Ten Must-Reads On Teams.

Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson note in Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams that teams are getting larger, more complex, and more virtual, and that each of these factors mitigates AGAINST successful collaboration. Virtual teams do not witness the highly collaborative behavior of senior executives, nor do they have the opportunity to forge relationships by catching lunch together in the beautiful company cafeteria.  Gratton and Erickson observe:

We found some surprises: for example, that the type of reward system—whether based on team or individual achievement, or tied explicitly to collaborative behavior or not—had no discernible effect on complex teams’ productivity and innovation. Although most formal HR programs appeared to have limited impact, we found that two practices did improve team performance: training in skills related to collaborative behavior, and support for informal community building. Where collaboration was strong, the HR team had typically made a significant investment in one or both of thosepractices—often in ways that uniquely represented the company’s culture and business strategy.

As learning organizations, we can support our teams by making available training opportunities in building soft skills, which these days need to also cover how to communicate effectively using the more attenuated sensory channels –telephone, email, video conferencing, discussion sites — available to our virtual teams.

We can also make available online space for more casual interaction. Being able to show off baby pictures at the lunch table makes a difference – and it can also be done in the team microblog, if we are making one available.