Virtual Teams

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Virtual Teams: Pre-Meeting To Do’s

What do you do before your virtual team meetings?

Preparing for any meeting is important, especially for virtual meetings via teleconference or netmeetings.  It is difficult working in virtual teams as you don’t see your other team members face-to-face very often.  So, try not to put yourself at a further disadvantage by forgetting to do a few small things before your meetings.  Here are five easy things you can do before your virtual team meetings to help make them more productive.

5 Pre-Meeting To Do’s for Virtual Teams

1.  Identify Team Members

List the decision makers, subject experts and opinion leaders before the meeting and identify their possible input and interests in the outcome of the meeting.

Consequences:

  • Knowing who to address when
  • Knowing who can answer specific technical questions
  • Focus information on decision maker’s interests

2.  Establish Ground Rules

The team decides on acceptable meeting behavior before the meeting begins and holds each other accountable to the rules; for example no interrupting, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…

Consequences:

  • Promoting behaviors that will improve group interaction
  • No single “enforcer” necessary
  • Accountability through reminding

3.  Publish an Agenda and Goals

Publishing an agenda should be a “must do” but it doesn’t always happen or it doesn’t happen in time for the participants to prepare. Another important feature of an agenda is a purpose statement or goal. What do you want to achieve with the meeting? What does a good meeting look like? Answering these questions will help you and your participants feel like you’ve accomplished something when the meeting is over.

Consequences:

  • Clear direction for the meeting
  • Improve preparation of participants
  • Way to keep participants focused and on topic
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over

4.  Build Relationships

Take time before the meeting to get to know team members personally. It’s really important to build rapport and commitment to the Virtual Team.

Consequences:

  • Learning what others are interested in beyond the work of the meeting
  • More information to assist understanding
  • Help design metaphors and stories to illustrate key points
  • Increase commitment to virtual team

5.  Master the technology you will use in the meeting

Understanding your technological tools, what can go wrong and knowing how to fix it in advance of the meeting is crucial. Know what tools are available to your participants and be prepared to trouble shoot with participants. Always have a back-up plan.

Consequences:

  • Head off technical problems before they happen
  • Save time addressing technical problems during the meeting
  • Have input options for participants

You can ensure your virtual team meetings run more smoothly by taking a few minutes and doing the five things above.  What else have you done that has worked well?  Let us know in the comments area below.  Also, if you want to improve your overall participation in virtual teams, you can download our eBook of checklists and check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams by clicking here.

Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams

What are the challenges in your virtual team?

Each virtual team has their own unique challenges, but there are always a few that seem to be consistently present.  In this short video, Scott Levey, Director of Operations, focuses on two of the most commons challenges we see when training virtual teams.  Having awareness of these, and other issues that may arise, will help your virtual team increase its effectiveness.

 

 

Want to improve your virtual team’s performance?  Make sure to download our eBook of Virtual Team Checklists and check out our Working Effectively in Virtual Teams seminar.

Giving Feedback Virtually

Do you ever give feedback virtually?

Do you give your suppliers, your clients and your co-workers effective feedback – both positive and constructive (negative)? Giving good, timely, constructive and actionable feedback is something that most of us have to put a lot of effort into. Do we praise theVTchecklists right things? When we give constructive feedback, do we make positive suggestions? Do we always remember to address the issue, not the person?

Giving feedback well is not easy. But, giving feedback well in a business world that is becoming increasingly virtual can be a real challenge. When we add a few of the complexities that come from interacting virtually, we have an even harder job. Some of these challenges include timing, reading reactions, specificity and tone. When giving feedback virtually, for example via email, here are a few suggestions and tips below to help you do a better job.

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5 Tips for giving feedback virtually

1.  Make sure that the timing is appropriate – especially if your feedback is negative. Think about raising a child or a pet; you don’t tell them they did something wrong three days later!

2.  Make sure that the reader understands immediately what the email is about:

  • Use a subject line like: “Feedback on your proposal”
  • Tell them in the first sentence why you are emailing: “I’m writing to you with some feedback regarding the proposal you sent me on January 4.”
  • Tell them what feedback is included: “I have some feedback regarding the pricing and the payment process.”

3.  Break your feedback up. If you told them you had feedback about the pricing and the payment process, these should be two completely separate paragraphs. Give them headings if you wish.

4.  Try to be specific and give justification. For example:

  • “We liked your proposal. Especially the second page where you mentioned that the training would focus on our corporate values. This really fits to our company philosophy.”
  • “Unfortunately, we cannot agree to point 3 in section 2, relating to the payment options. This is not in accordance with our compliance policy.”

5.  When rejecting a suggestion, try to make a counter suggestion. For example:

  • “We cannot agree to point 3 in section 2. However, we could agree if the payment period was extended to 60 days.”
  • “I do not like the way you formatted the report. Next time, try to base it on the attached example or come and see me to discuss my expectations in more detail.”

Of course, there are many other things which can help to make giving feedback virtually more effective. Please feel free to add your extra ideas in the comments section below. Also, make sure to check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams to help improve your virtual team’s performance.

 

 

Virtual Team Meetings: Creating Empathy and Rapport

How are your Virtual Team meetings?

More and more meetings are being held virtually. Virtual team meetings are a trend that is bound to continue as it is far cheaper than getting everyone together. But it isn’t the same, is it? Unless you use webcams, you can’t pick up on any nonverbal communication going on. You can’t see people’s faces. You can’t see what they are thinking. To be honest, you don’t know what they’re actually even doing. You also, and this point bothers me the most, can’t have that cup of coffee together at the beginning where you exchange a few words often unrelated to business.

Why is the social aspect so important?

You completely miss out on the opportunity to establish any empathy or rapport with the people you are working with. Imagine for example that you are having a virtual team meeting to discuss solving a problem you have. If you don’t have any form of relationship with these people, how can you expect them to help? Isn’t it easier to request help from someone you know a little about? If you don’t know them at all, how can you choose the right way of talking to them to win them over? Of course, the need for empathy building will vary from culture to culture. Some will take an order as an order and just do it, but not that many. And what happens if you have a multi-cultural team?

What can you do to establish virtual empathy and rapport?

It is doubtful as to whether empathy can actually be taught. But there are techniques which help to develop it. Here are a few:

  • Begin the webmeeting on time, with a quick round of self introductions. It is important to hear everyone’s voice and know who is present. Remind participants that each time they speak, they should identify themselves again.
  • Log in early and encourage small talk while waiting for everyone to join in and at the beginning of the meeting itself – have that cup of coffee virtually. This will help to make a connection between people and give them a bit of character. In a remote meeting you often feel distant from each other, and this can make it difficult to interact. This feeling of distance happens, because the participants are in different places and often can’t see each other. Small talk helps to ‘bridge the distances’. Small talk also helps you to get to know each other and each other’s voices, so you know who is speaking and when. This will help communication later on in the meeting.VTchecklists

What can you talk about and what should you say?

Small talk can also give you valuable information about the other participants which could be important to the success of the meeting. What mood are they in? Are they having computer problems? Are they calling from a quiet location? Here are some topics we recommend using and some language to get you started. There are literally hundreds of things you could say, but it can be helpful to have a few prepared. You’ll see that some of these are particular to virtual meetings:

Location

  • Q: Where are you speaking from?
  • A: I’m at my desk.  How about you?

Weather

  • Q: What’s the weather like where you are? We’re clouded over!
  • A: We’ve got blue skies and sunshine.  Hope it gets to you soon!

Logging-in

  • Q: How did you find logging in?  I had a few problems.
  • A: It was fine.  What problems did you have?

Sound quality

  • Q: Can you hear me OK?
  • A: No sorry, you are a bit faint.  Can you please speak up?

Performance

  • Q: I am getting serious lag here.  How are you doing?
  • A: I am doing fine.  Maybe it is your internet connection.

Work

  • Q: How are things going in Marketing at the moment?
  • A: Oh, you know, busy as usual.  How are things in your department?

If you give lots of information in your answers, it makes it easier for the other person to ask more questions and keep the conversation going. If you just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it will stop the conversation. If you’re asking questions, remember to use open questions so that they can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.

More on this topic can be found in our Using Collaborative Technologies Seminar. Do you have any tips you’d like to share on how to build empathy and rapport in your virtual team meetings? Let us know in the comments area below.

 

Listening Skills: 10 Areas to Improve

Listening effectively is not easy.  How often do you find yourself in a conversation and not completely concentrating on what your partner is saying?

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How good are your listening skills?

Take a look at the ten simple questions below and assess how good your listening skills are. Be honest with yourself.

  1. As soon as you think you know what your partner wants to say you turn off and stop listening (jumping to conclusions)
  2. You spend the time used by your partner to prepare your next comment (rehearsing)
  3. You only concentrate when you expect that the point will be of direct interest to you (filtering)
  4. You expect to disagree so you only listen for weaknesses (judging)
  5. You continue nodding in agreement although your thoughts are on something else (dreaming)
  6. You refer everything to your own experience and compare what you did / would have done (comparing)
  7. You start thinking about the possible solutions before your partner has finished outlining the issue (solving)
  8. You don’t give your partner room to build their argument and start to discuss before the speaker is ready (interrupting)
  9. You think you / your work / your team are being criticized and jump in to block the supposed attack (defending)
  10. You agree politely to whatever your partner says so that you can move on to the next subject (placating)

 

Improving your listening skills awareness with ALF

Now next time you are talking with someone be aware of your internal listening behaviors. Focus on listening to them. A simple trick to improve your listening skills is to remember ALF:

Always Listen First

And finally here’s a tip from Lars, a project lead for an automotive manufacturer.  I met Lars a few years ago when he was a participant in a Virtual Teams seminar we ran.  A few months ago I bumped into him at a train station. He told me that he’d bought himself a key ring of ALF, the character from the 1980s comedy show.  Just so he wouldn’t forget to Always Listen First.

Let us know what has worked for you in the comments area below.

 

Motivating People: Using Emails Within a Virtual Environment

Motivating people isn’t easy no matter what position you hold in the company. There is an old Japanese proverb which says ‘the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.’

A common mistake

I was reminded of this recently when working with a client who was responsible for communicating a company-wide change. He needed colleagues in three different global locations to log in to an existing system and perform a task before the system could be replaced with a different, better tool.  It would take them 5 minutes. The most efficient way to communicate this request? Email of course. Easy he thought….wrong I’m afraid.
The first email he sent was a masterpiece of clarity and politeness. It laid out beautifully what was changing and how. The instructions were clear and easily understandable, (even when put through an online translator tool and back. Trust me, he tested that). There were six weeks until the deadline for the switch to the new tool, plenty of time.

The countdown began….
Four weeks before the deadline and two reminder emails later – only 54% of colleagues had carried out the request….
Three weeks before and another reminder, 61%….
Two weeks before and another reminder about the reminders, 69%….
One week before the deadline, another two slightly less polite but very clear reminders and still only 82% of his colleagues had carried out the request.
Why weren’t his colleagues more motivated to make the change? There was time for one last email, and this is when he came and saw me.
‘What’s wrong with my English?’ he asked me. ‘Nothing’ I said. ‘You’ve told them what will happen, you’ve simplified the technical language so even I can understand it and your instructions are clearer than those for an IKEA flat pack’. ‘So why are they so reluctant to make the change?’ he asked. ‘Simple’ I said. ‘They’re made of oak, and you want them to be bamboo.’

Realizing what your message should say

Before he thought I’d completely lost it, I told him the proverb and explained that at the moment, his colleagues were the oak trees. They knew how the old system worked and didn’t want to change to the unknown. If they were going to be like the stronger bamboo, they needed to know why they should bend. ‘That’s simple’ he said. ‘The old tool often asked you to repeat information and it could take a long time to enter data. The new tool only asks for information once and is far more accurate. Their life will be much easier. It will all be much quicker which will make their customers happy too.’
Great, that should make everyone happy, but where did it say all this in the original email? It didn’t, and there was the root of the problem, (or oak tree).
Normally, when communicating a change via email or group media, the biggest concern is making sure the ‘what’ and ‘how’ is explained as clearly as possible so people understand what they must do. It’s easy to lose focus of the motivational side, the ‘why’.

Getting results with your emails

It doesn’t matter how polite your request is, if people can’t relate it to themselves they will resist. To avoid this, try following these five simple steps:

  1. Explain what the change is
  2. Explain why it makes sense
  3. Explain why they should care about the change, (what’s in it for them)
  4. Explain how the change is going to happen
  5. Explain what you need them to do and when

Of course, these can be applied to any situation where you’re asking people to make a change, whether it’s by email or face to face; to 1,100 or 10,000 people.
By the way, the deadline was met, the new tool was launched and it has proved a success. I’m not so sure my client would be so ‘Zen’ as to say he’s now surrounded by a forest of bamboo trees, but I do know he didn’t have to send 12 reminders when he next asked people to do something.

Click here for more information on to work effectively in virtual teams.  Also, let us know in the comments areas below if you have had any similar situation in your job, and what worked for you.

Virtual Teams: The Importance of Saying Thank You in Emails

When I was a kid I used to love Christmas and birthdays and all the presents that came with them. The part I hated was the thank you letters my parents made me write afterwards. Of course I didn’t appreciate how necessary they were at the time,  after all I’d said thanks after tearing off all the paper, hadn’t I? But learning to show appreciation and gratitude is probably one of the best lessons parents can teach. I may not have been grateful then, but I definitely am now.

Now, working in virtual teams, I find myself offended when someone doesn’t say thank you. You answer their email, do something for them, and somehow the conversation isn’t closed with a simple thank you.

It is really only a few words, how much can it hurt to write back a couple of words to someone who has helped? In the virtual setting the normal face-to-face office environment is missing.  We therefore need to make sure that we make up for that.  So, just write a simple thank you mail. It only takes a minute and, if you use some of the phrases below, it might only take a few seconds. It will though, dramatically improve the reader’s feelings toward you– and they might be that much happier to help next time.

Phrases for saying thank you:

The phrases here are ordered according to the level of formality or the importance of what they did. Use a phrase, and add a sentence or two to personalize the message – it really doesn’t need to be long.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for…VTchecklists

I am very grateful for …

I really appreciate ……

Thank you so much!

Thanks for your … (time, contribution, effort, etc.)

Thanks.

An example thank you email:

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for helping me out this week with the mini-staffing crisis. You really helped the team and I particularly appreciated your flexibility and eagerness to try out something new.

Thanks again,

Kate

Showing considerateness is an important part of working in virtual teams. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments area below.

 

Teleconference Tips and Phrases

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From a business perspective, teleconferencing makes a lot of sense: with a simple set-up, a company can host a meeting with employees, customers and suppliers from around the world at very low cost. However, the flip side is that teleconferences present significant challenges to participants for several reasons. Most companies still use audio-only conferencing, which means there are no visual clues to help us understand each other. On top of that, the call quality can sometimes be very poor. We also have to consider the fact that teleconferences can involve people from many different levels of English proficiency. All of these factors make teleconferences an efficient, but sometimes stressful, way to exchange information. Here are some teleconference tips and phrases that might help you feel more comfortable during your next call.

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General teleconference tips

  • Get familiar with the equipment. If you are responsible for the meeting, learn how to use the teleconference equipment before the meeting. If you have technical problems,, they will be easier to solve, which will save everyone time.
  • Do a roll call. Take a moment at the beginning of the teleconference to allow everyone to identify themselves. This will let you know who is involved, but can also serve as a technical check: if someone is too loud or too soft, the problem can be addressed now. Also, make a note of the names and use them later to identify participants.
  • Have an agenda and refer to it often. An agenda is a good idea for most meetings, and teleconferences are no exception. Frequent reference to the agenda can be a good tool for making sure participants keep their attention focused on the meeting and not on their text messages or emails.

Phrases to use in teleconferences

1. Phrases for managing people:

·         Block an interruption: “Sorry Tatjana, could we let Karsten finish, please?”

·         Nominate a speaker: “Adrian in Michigan, do you have anything you’d like to add?”

·         Announce yourself: “This is Chad in Stuttgart. Could I say something?”

2. Phrases for managing technical problems:

·         Someone is not loud enough: “I’m afraid we can’t hear you very well. Can you please speak up?”

·         Technical problem on your end: “I think there’s a problem with the line. We’re looking into it now. Please give us a moment.”

·         Technical problem on the other end: “Unfortunately we can’t hear you very well. Could you check the connection on your end?”

3. Phrases for various events:

·         The next point on the agenda: “Could we please move to the next point on the agenda, production costs? John in Farmington Hills, could you tell us something about the proposed numbers, please?”

·         Someone enters the room: “One moment please, Jessica from HR has just joined us.”

·         A moment of silence: “Sorry everyone, we’re looking for the PowerPoint slides. Please give us a second.”

Using the tips and phrases above can help your teleconference run more smoothly. Do you have any ideas you could add to our list? If so, let us know in the comments section below.  Also, see how you can further improve your teleconference skills by clicking here.

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