Building a Cohesive Virtual Team

Information and communications technologies have created organizations that span geography and time. Multi-site environments, cross-functional teams, and extended-hour or 24/7 operations are common contact center examples. If you are a manager or director, you may have the responsibility of getting results from those who work in different locations, who don’t report to you, or who don’t work the same hours.

Unfortunately, technology hasn’t eliminated the natural barriers that exist between people who work in distributed environments. Those who work in different places and/or at different times often have trouble seeing themselves as an integral part of a larger team.

Like leadership in general, there’s no specific recipe for building a cohesive virtual team. However, there are tried-and-true steps you can take that will significantly increase your chances for success:

  • Create a clear vision for the contact center.
  • Create opportunities for the people in the distributed environment to get to know each other. (For example, I know of a manager who set up an internal webpage profiling the members of a multi-site team, occasionally giving everyone a short quiz on the interests and backgrounds of fellow members. Others are tapping into video-based meetings, internal social communities, and other approaches to bring people together.)
  • Look for ways to keep everyone involved. Time must be spent (even if it’s in short supply) to foster a collaborative environment.
  • Take steps to ensure that everyone gets key information at the same time.
  • Spend proportionately more time tending to the needs and relationships of the more “distant” members of the group. (Distant may mean the members who work the night shift, work primarily at home, or are in a site thousands of miles away.)
  • Look for ways to scrap (or at least minimize) the impact of unnecessary hierarchies and cumbersome bureaucracies, which tend to wreak havoc on distributed teams.
  • Consistently communicate and celebrate progress. It’s important to keep the group updated and on the same track.

The challenges of leading a distributed team are real and ongoing, but being part of an environment in which people successfully work together across distance and time is one of the most rewarding professional experiences you can have. In today’s world, it’s also one of the most necessary.

Excerpt from the most recent edition of Contact Center Management on Fast Forward by Brad Cleveland.