The Effective and Innovative Virtual Team Leader

By Frank P. Saladis, PMP, LIMC MCCP, PMI Fellow

Virtual teams have been a part of the business, public, and not for profit environments for many years. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the internet began to significantly influence how information and meetings were managed. The economic situation in 1986 also had a major impact on business travel and companies sought new ways to conduct meetings more economically and to minimize travel. Back in that time period, technology was available but expensive and was used primarily by large corporations that could afford to construct what was basically a television production studio. 

Today there are multiple platforms to choose from and they are generally very economical. The features and functions associated with the platforms provide the team leader or meeting facilitator with a variety of tools that can engage the attendees and produce the desired meeting outcomes. 

In today’s new business environmentremotely distributed and virtual teams, although not entirely a new concept, have become a much more integral part of daily business. The leaders of these virtual teams must adapt to a very demanding and nearly constant state of “virtuality.”

Here are a few suggestions that may assist in creating a virtual team community that is well connected, engaged, and productive: 

  1. Prepare an agenda for your meetings to send out to attendees, regardless of planned duration. Team members want to know the topics in advance. This helps them to prepare and participate more productively. 
  1. If possible, schedule “recurring meetings” and “status updates” for a specific day and time each week/month. This allows everyone to plan their schedules and avoid commitment conflicts. 
  1. Everyone’s time is important, so keep meetings as brief as possible and, as the leader, always be on line before everyone else. This also allows for some “social chat” and warm up before you begin. 
  1. Some meetings require attendance by very specific individuals. Invite only those people who are truly needed for each meeting. 
  1. Use “visual anchors” to maintain engagement – pictures, charts, images, diagrams. Use color to enhance the visual effect. 
  1. Use “verbal anchors” to ensure clarity and understanding – comparisons, analyses, processes and steps, examples, repeating information for emphasis. 
  1. Use “connection anchors” to maintain attention and participation – Ask team members specific questions, shift responsibility for facilitation., 
  1. Share work assignments equally. In many cases, leaders subconsciously assign particular work to team members based on the leader’s perception of an individual’s work performance. The leader is a coach and a mentor, and trust is a key factor in creating high performance teams. Show your entire team that you trust them. 
  1. Connect with each team member individually and establish a rapport. This is necessary to ensure that performance related discussions are productive, comfortable, and meaningful. 
  1. Establish ways for the team to get to know each other. There are lots of creative techniques to establish a very supportive virtual team environment: Share baby pictures and ask people to match each picture with the team members, have occasional round-table discussions, pair people to work together, be an idea champion and encourage everyone to come up with suggestions for increasing engagement and meeting enjoyment. 

This new virtual business environment we are experiencing will probably continue as the business world moves forward. Technology will evolve to meet the needs and the team leader must adapt to the many new norms that are just over the virtual horizon. 

One more tip I have for you is implement “enjoyment time” for each meeting, demonstrate your trust in your team, and exercise some creativity in your meeting management. Give everyone an opportunity to excel and contribute and keep communication flowing to ensure a strong team connection. 

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author

Frank Saladis is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant and instructor in the project management profession with over 35 years of experience in the telecommunications and project management training environment. Frank is a past president of the PMI Assembly of Chapter Presidents and is the originator of International Project Management Day. In 2006 he received the prestigious Person of the Year Award from PMI for his contributions to the practice of project management.


Overcoming Distance and Cultural Barriers to Virtual Teamwork

“Out of sight, out of mind.”

This expression exists in many cultures. In some cases, the distance makes us far from the mind. In others, it is from the heart that we are far. This thinking versus feeling cultural aspect is interesting in itself… But in all cases, we agree that when one is far, one is easier to forget!

To conclude our quest for full proficiency in virtual, international teamwork, today we will investigate the distance and human aspect/cultural barriers, finalising the evaluation of ourselves and our counterparts. See our previous blog post on the language barrier here

Based on this, we will be able to make any needed improvements to our own techniques and, as Project Managers, help team members and other stakeholders to progress in proficiency.

As a reminder, here are the Transactional Analysis Discounting levels again (from this blog post):

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

The Distance Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

The distance barrier is like a two-sided coin.

On one side, the physical facts: remote communication techniques such as email, telephone, videoconferencing, text messaging, etc. are needed to communicate across distance and time zones. From studies such as the work of Mehrabian, we know that not all information passes through the words of an exchange (verbal communication). A vast majority passes through the non-verbal communication (body language) and the para-verbal (tone of voice). Based on this, an audio-only conversation (phone call) can lose up to 50% of the information content; a text-only communication (email, text message) can lose up to 90%.

On the other side of the coin are the human effects: it is harder to create and maintain fundamental emotional bonds and mutual trust at a distance. Knowing that this is a key characteristic of high-performing teams, the significance of the problem is clear.

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

To solve both the information loss and trust-building issues of distance communication:

  1. Blended communication is the tactic of mixing communication methods to ensure the most effective and efficient overall communication strategy. Like blending the ingredients of a cake: if we only had flour, it would be a poor cake! But add eggs, butter and sugar and we have something good. In the same way, if we only use email to communicate, we don’t have a very good “cake”. If we add videoconferencing, audio and instant text-messaging we have something much tastier! Blended communication leverages the positive aspects of each communication method. Used wisely, we obtain communication which is more effective and efficient than some co-located mono-method communication. It also addresses the trust issue as we can build better bonds with videoconferencing than via email, for example.
  2. To further improve mutual trust, we use inclusion. This means purposefully spending time and energy to genuinely exchange with speaking partners. By enquiring how a colleague is, and genuinely listening to the answer, we may or may not see results straight away. But the additional bond made and trust built through this fundamental human interaction will bear fruit throughout the relationship.

Human Aspects / The Cultural Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

Whilst each one of us is unique, we all have the same fundamental needs – safety, physical and psychological well-being and belonging/recognition. Our uniqueness is a mix of our individual personality and our cultural background. On a macro level (country/region/company), cultural tendencies are clearly visible. On a micro level (person/team), individual personalities have a high importance.

In our daily work with others, we may observe that:

  • Some people prefer to do one thing at a time; some prefer to multi-task
  • Some believe that rules are rules; for others, rules are relative and depend on the situation
  • Some keep strict timing whilst others think that it is naïve to believe that we can divide and “control” time in this way
  • Some prefer to act alone whilst others place a high importance on relationships. Sometimes we feel that this is just for relationships’ sake; sometimes we feel that potential advantages of the relationship are taken into account

These and other observations lead us to the conclusion that others act differently to the way we do. We can fall into the trap of thinking that our way is the “right” way and their way is the “wrong” way. This leads to poor working relationships.

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

The owl and the chameleon are our guides here.

Firstly, the owl for its incredible senses of perception and reputation for wisdom. The wisdom we seek is to perceive diversity as an advantage rather than an annoying barrier to overcome.

Secondly, the chameleon for its agility and capacity to blend into its surroundings.

By combining these characteristics, we:

  1. Free ourselves from the “right way / wrong way” trap. We recognise that “their way” is simply “another way” and that different points of view increase creativity and generate new ways to solve problems
  2. We observe, using all our senses, what is going on in a situation and try hard to understand and interpret with an open mind
  3. We use the chameleon’s power to adapt agilely to the situation with the aim of enhancing mutual success.

Virtual Teamwork – Harnessing the Power

By understanding the problems and their significance (Levels 1 & 2) and identifying options for action (Levels 3 & 4), we transform the three barriers into three solid pillars supporting our international and virtual teamwork.

By seeking to:

  1. Understand each other through high quality communication and thus build trust
  2. Use blended communication and inclusion to increase efficiency and deepen trust
  3. Use difference as power and understand others’ behaviour (owl) then adapt to the needs of the situation whilst keeping our own identity (chameleon) we harness the full power of virtual global project management and teamwork.

Wishing you much success and enjoyment in your virtual international interactions!

Peter

For further details, see “Foolproof International Communication”, Moberg & Chadwick, Japco Publishing House 2013, ISBN 978-91-637-1116-9, 2013


About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.


IIL’s Trusted Virtual Trainers Contribute to Virtual Top Tips Report

Over the past 25 years, IIL has been providing clients with thousands of virtual training experiences and we’ve learned a lot in that time; delivering high quality virtual learning is not an easy task!

Whilst we have been ahead of the game, many people in our industry are currently making the move to virtual training, which is a daunting task. So, when Course Conductor told us they were publishing a report to help those people, by sharing the top tips from lots of other expert virtual trainers – we were only too pleased to get involved.

Course Conductor has just published the report and it is aptly named “60 Top Tips to Help New Virtual Trainers (from 60 Trusted Virtual Trainers).”

The report contains a wealth of information from 60 virtual training experts, all of which will be incredibly useful to any trainer that is currently making the transition from traditional classroom training to virtual training.

Three of our virtual trainers contributed to the report: Ed Lively, Ken Terry, and Keith Wilson. They have all been verified by Course Conductor as ‘Trusted Virtual Trainers’.

Here’s Ed’s tip in the report:

Download the full report here: www.courseconductor.com/virtualtips

Learn more about IIL’s virtual courses here: https://courses.iil.com/course/upcoming


Lifting the Language Barrier

“If you differ from me, my brother, far from harming me, you enrich me.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviation pioneer, writer and poet, 1900 – 1944

Over more than three decades working internationally as an engineer, project manager, trainer and coach, one of the major things that I have observed is the importance of the language barrier, particularly from a “Discounting level 1 & 2” point of view.

As a reminder, here are the Transactional Analysis Discounting levels again (from the previous blog post):

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

We also identified three main barriers to effective virtual global teamwork:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Distance / time zone barrier
  3. Human aspect / cultural barrier

Today, we will concentrate on the language barrier. We will run it through Discounting Analysis, moving from problems to solutions. We will also take a step further and leverage advantages to enhance effectiveness.

Our aim is to evaluate our proficiency and that of our counterparts. We can then make any needed improvements to our own techniques and, as Project Managers, help team members and other stakeholders to progress in proficiency.

The Language Barrier

Levels 1 & 2 – Problem and Significance

To work together, we need to communicate, to “speak the same language”. Yet, around seven thousand languages are used around the world today.

Over time, we have found solutions to this problem. The use of a lingua franca is one. In order to understand each other, the contemporary use of English is common in international communication. And that is the trap! Thinking that (a) speaking English solves all problems and (b) those who do speak English truly understand each other!

  1. Only around 20% of the world’s population speak English (as a first or second language). This distances 80% of potential co-workers. The significance of this problem is clear.
  2. A more subtle problem exists: registering issues between users of English. Of the global 20% of English speakers, around one-fifth speak English as their first language. For the other four-fifths, English is a secondary language or is present in their country. For less-proficient practitioners, it is obvious that care must be taken to ensure correct communication when using English internationally. However, amongst fluent practitioners, frequently no such caution is observed. International audio meetings filled with, “full speed ahead”, jargon-rich English spoken with strong accents are common. Less fluent participants try hard to follow, with difficulty. It is often clear that some practitioners have not registered that a problem exists. “This meeting is in English, we are speaking English, so there’s no problem, right?” Unfortunately, very, very wrong!

The cultural/personality iceberg – above and below the waterline

Above the waterline, we see the “what”. Observable issues of international communication are often in plain view: puzzled expressions, mistakes, incomprehension and unexpected/unwanted deliverables, sometimes months later, are common.

Below the waterline lies the “why”. We would all like to communicate using English confidently and with ease. However, if we subjectively judge that our level of English is “inadequate”, we may be tempted to stay silent to hide our self-perceived “incompetence” and “save face”. The importance of “saving face” is particularly important in certain cultures. “Low-face-importance” cultures assume that anyone not understanding will interrupt to clarify. “High-face-importance” cultures assume that it is clear that doing so would induce a loss of face and is therefore not a viable possibility…

Levels 3 & 4 – Options and Actions

When using English to communicate:

  1. We use easy words and short, clear sentences. The simpler, the better
  2. We articulate clearly and take our time to speak. We use full words rather than joining two words together: “I am an engineer” is clearer than “I’m an engineer”
  3. We use Latin root verbs instead of Germanic root verbs: “I will obtain the contract” is clearer than “I’m going to get the contract” for many non-native English speakers
  4. We borrow best practices from international aviation communication:
    – we use the international alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.) to spell-out difficult words
    – we use individual digits to clarify numbers: “one-four” is clearer than “fourteen”
    – we confirm key elements by repetition: Person A: “Please supply fourteen (one-four) samples tomorrow.” Person B: “We will supply fourteen (one-four) samples tomorrow.”
  5. We use regular pauses and “sign posting” to allow speaking partners to easily follow the conversation: “I will now talk about X / [I deliver message X] / “I have talked about X and will now talk about Y” / [I deliver message Y]
  6. We prefer nouns to verbs: “Who is your Manager?” is easier to understand than “Who do you work for?”
  7. We avoid phrasal verbs: “call off”, “go back” and “shop around” – completely confusing!
  8. We avoid question-tags: “you do understand, don’t you?” – even more confusing!!
  9. We are careful with humour as cultural norms for humour in business vary widely. A well-intentioned humoristic comment may be misunderstood and cause unwanted confusion. It may also produce a negative effect for cultures for which the norm is to keep humour for outside of office hours…
  10. Most importantly, all nationalities, particularly native English speakers, must make efforts to adapt their speech with the one common goal of facilitating mutual understanding

When some parties have a very basic level of English (or do not speak English at all):

  1. Support from a professional translator/interpreter is of great value, allowing swifter communications and fewer expensive misunderstandings and mistakes. Language support from multi-lingual colleagues is also useful. When using translation/interpretation software, we are aware of the risk of incorrect translations
  2. A picture is worth a thousand words! Images, drawings and sketches boost mutual understanding
  3. Written communications allow time for translation and understanding. They can, however, lead to “conversations” which take many days and still end in confusion
  4. A way to improve on this is to write and talk at the same time: during an audio meeting, as one is speaking, one writes key words and figures on-screen to provide anchors for understanding
  5. We plan regular follow-up meetings: daily status points to check that progress made is according to understandings. This allows misunderstandings to be identified and corrected early

For all interactions:

  1. We reduce “loss of face” risks by clearly stating our aim of mutual understanding and the use of “less-than-perfect English” as the communication norm
  2. We reinforce openness by allowing time for people to build relationships and confidence
  3. We continuously monitor speaking partners to detect non-verbal signs of confusion or disagreement
  4. We ensure that all people contribute to the conversation by bringing in members with a tendency to stay silent (perhaps due to a difficulty to interrupt to enter the conversation)
  5. For important decisions, a written record of agreements is made during the conversation, in real-time. Participants confirm and approve the record post-meeting.

Building Strong Foundations

Our efforts to address the language barrier will obviously bring immediate benefits in improved understanding between global team members. Also, as a collateral benefit, the care, energy and good will that we transmit through our efforts to understand and be understood will be noticed by our counterparts. This tangible good will builds trust and good working relationships, particularly between cultures and at a distance.

We will build on this strong foundation in the next and final blog focused on the distance barrier and human aspect/cultural barrier.

Until then, take care and don’t hesitate to share your experiences or highlight any questions.

Peter

For further details, see “Foolproof International Communication”, Moberg & Chadwick, Japco Publishing House 2013, ISBN 978-91-637-1116-9, 2013


About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.


“Discounting” theory as a framework for assessing remote work proficiency levels

Working virtually with team members dispersed nationally or across the globe is nothing new and our use of this way-of-working has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. We don’t need to be talking about full-blown “follow the sun” projects to make use of remote working methods: from interactions with overseas suppliers to outsourced project team members, most of us have developed skills in remote working.

With the current Covid-19 crisis, though, remote has sky-rocketed, exposing many people to the need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency.

So, we just do it, right? Or are there pitfalls to avoid? Well, indeed there may be! A good starting point to fully understand what is at stake is the “Discounting” theory of Transactional Analysis. This is nothing to do with trying to get a reduction on a price but rather a sub-conscious process which is best described through an example.

There are four levels of discounting:

  1. Not registering that a problem exists
  2. Not registering the significance of that problem
  3. Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
  4. Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]

As an example, two flatmates, John and Chris, are at home and a tap (faucet) is dripping. In actual fact, it has been dripping for months. Chris says to John, “Can you hear that tap dripping?”. “Tap dripping?” John replies. He listens. “Now you mention it, there is a tap dripping! Well how about that!” He goes back to reading his book.

→ John has just cleared past level 1: he has registered that a problem exists

Sometime later, Chris, who has been searching through water bills, comes back into the room brandishing a stack of paperwork. “Do you know how much money a dripping tap wastes?” he asks. John replies that it’s only a drip and can’t be that much. Chris shows John bills dating back over a year showing a $20 increase per month since the tap started to drip. “Wow! $20 a month! That’s terrible! But it costs a fortune to call out a plumber and anyway you can never get one to come out…”

→ John has cleared past level 2: he has registered the significance of a problem, and has started to move on to level 3 (not believing there are options for action to solve the problem).

Chris shows John the results of an online search. It shows a bag of 50 tap gaskets of various sizes, with free next-day delivery, for $2.59. “Well that’s very interesting, but I’m no plumber!” says John.

→ John has cleared level 3: he has registered that there are options for action, and has moved onto level 4 (not believing he has the capability to act to solve the problem).

With a heavy sigh, Chris flips to an online tutorial showing “how to fit a new gasket to fix a dripping tap in 5 minutes”. After watching the video, with a shrug and a smile, John sets aside his book, orders the gasket set online and goes off to the tool cupboard to find a wrench…

→ John has cleared all the way through to level 4: registering that a problem exists and is significant, that options for action exist and that he is capable of implementing them!

Discounting applied to virtual teamwork

So how does this apply to our need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency in remote working? Well, it provides a framework for each of us to evaluate where we are on the proficiency scale.

Level 1: If we believe that, to “go remote”, we just carry on working as we did in the office but now via videoconference from home, we would be at level 1 – not registering that issues exist such as the time needed to set up remote links and use the technology, potential technical gremlins and the additional concentration needed when remote-working all day long.

Level 2: If we believe that these issues do exist, but we just have to “get on with it regardless”, it would be to discount the additional fatigue that distance working can cause. We may also find ourselves working long hours to get the same results as before with, at the same time, a strange feeling of frustration and lower efficiency. We would be at level 2.

Level 3: If we realise that we do need to do something to adapt to the remote working situation but are not sure of what, we would be at level 3. Solutions such as adapting the rhythm of work and using a blend of communication methods to leverage the pros of each whilst reducing the cons are just within our grasp if we take the time to think about it.

Level 4: Finally, we may be aware of key remote working techniques but be unfamiliar with them and need to gain proficiency and confidence through try-outs in a safe environment, and maybe training, coaching or support from colleagues.

Barriers to effective virtual teams

We can identify three main types of issues faced by global co-workers:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Distance / time zone barrier
  3. Human aspect / cultural barrier

Over the next few days, we will not only look into how to “get around” these three categories of barrier but, even better, we will check how we can leverage opportunities to be even more powerful than before in traditional “face-to-face” work.

As we move ahead, it would be great to get your input, discoveries and experience so that we can be stronger together. So, tune in again soon for the barrier analysis and, in the meantime, please share your virtual teamwork experiences, successes and questions below!

Take care!

Peter

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author 

Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.

The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.

Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.

Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.


Are You There? Hello...?

By Keith Wilson, MBA, B.Comm., PMP, MCP, MCT, CSM, CSPO, KMP, CDA

Virtual meetings/teams can be new territory for many of us. It can be especially difficult to be sure all attendees are getting the most out of the meeting. Sometimes, you can be left questioning if you have their full attention or if things are getting lost in translation.

Are you new to virtual teamwork? In this blog, I will share engagement techniques that I have used for years when training or consulting with teams virtually.

First, remember to be prepared and test your audio and camera beforehand. If you’re the facilitator, arrive an hour early to ensure everything works and advise other attendees to connect 5 minutes early so you will be ready to start on time.

Ice Breakers

If your web meeting app has icons that the team can use, start by asking everyone to “Click the green check or ‘OK’ icon” when they are ready to go. You may have to ask for this several times until everyone has clicked the icon. Unlike an in-person meeting, we may not have had a chance to socialize easily before the meeting begins, so take the first few minutes for a brief ice breaker. For example:

If your team has members from different parts of the world, select a word and have everyone share how they say it in their language. (For example, “beer.” I just know two other ways to say beer: “bière” (French) and the only word I know in Spanish, “cerveza.”)

Have people share an interesting factoid about the area where they live or a colloquialism. For example, I could ask people if they know what “I am going to the dépanneur and will stop at Timmy’s on the way back, eh” means. (If you’re a fellow Canadian ,you know that I am going to go to the store and then stopping at the donut shop on the way home. This can add a bit of fun to your meeting and also be educational.)

Introductions

If this is the teams’ first meeting, try this technique for introductions:

Have each person select a partner and interview them. This is easy if you are using a meeting app that supports break out groups; if not, perhaps they can send emails, texts or call each other and determine the following about their partner:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • What they do for your organization
  • How long they have worked at your organization
  • 2 things you have in common outside of work

Now instead of each person introducing themselves, they introduce their partner. By sharing commonalities, it will help the team relate to each other with realizations such as, “Oh, she has young children as well”, or “ I didn’t’ know he also likes cooking.”

Frequently Ask Questions

If the questions are close ended, instruct attendees to hit the green check mark icon for yes and the red “x” for no. But don’t forget to ask open ended question that start with the 5 W’s or how. If no one responds via chat, text, phone or VoIP, try this technique: first call upon 2 people, “Ann and Amit.” Now you have their attention to ask the open-ended questions; this is better than singling out one person. Do keep in mind one of the top fears people have is public speaking and this can be compounded if they are unfamiliar with the meeting app.

Whiteboards

Use the whiteboard frequently and ensure that everyone can type or draw on it; do not just have “death by PowerPoint.” My tool of choice is Adobe Connect and when people write on the whiteboard it doesn’t show who typed the comment. The anonymity helps people participate without fear of embarrassment. Also, let people know they won’t lose points for a misspelling.

As per an in-person meeting, you should also be sure to:

  • Start and end on time
  • Have an agenda with desired results
  • Document Action Items and have people assign themselves to the Action Items

I hope this blog helps you work successfully with your virtual teams. Stay tuned for more blogs.

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author 

Keith Wilson is a Senior Consultant and Trainer with IIL. His background includes over 25 years of successful coaching, training, management, and consulting experience. He is well known for his public speaking skills and enthusiasm, and has been a welcomed facilitator at numerous Fortune 500 corporations, universities, and associations worldwide.


Practical and Tactical Techniques for Managing Remote Teams

By Frank P. Saladis, PMP, LIMCA, MCPM, PMI Fellow

Managing a remote team is new territory for many businesses. In order to help manage effective and productive virtual teams, implement these useful tips and suggestions:

Keep in mind that when one person is remote, everyone is remote to that person.
Practice a virtual version of the “Stand-up Meeting” and get the business done quickly by keeping meetings as short in duration as possible.
Virtual team leaders should connect directly with each team member at least once a week. This will demonstrate that the leader maintains an interest in the individual as well as the work assigned.
Make sure virtual meetings are “Asynchronous”. Meaning, allow for discussion and avoid one-way transmission of information.
Make sure you have an agenda for your virtual meetings along with a specific time frame.
Create a virtual culture of communication, When possible, assign work to small groups and create a need for team members to communicate with each other outside of scheduled team meetings.
Share the responsibility for organizing and facilitating meetings in order to give everyone experience managing a virtual meeting.
Clearly define the expectations for the virtual team regarding assignments, timeliness, meeting etiquette, status reporting etc.
Require routine technology checks to ensure everyone remains connected. Reinforce cyber security and protection of company owned physical and intellectual property.
Keep in mind team members across multiple time zones when balancing meeting schedules.
Remain sensitive to cultural differences and be prepared to address verbal communications issues when accents and pronunciation present difficulties in comprehension.
Remote teams and employees may not have any actual in person contact and that limits the “casual office talk” that many people enjoy. Arrange for a virtual message board or “Keeping you in the know” blog or link and allow people to post messages.
Test the technology before a virtual meeting begins and arrange for one standard platform for use by everyone.
At the organizational level, plan for regular town hall virtual meetings and keep people informed about the business.


Although this may be new territory for some, using these tips will help anyone manage a successful and productive virtual team.

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author

Frank Saladis is an internationally renowned speaker, consultant and instructor in the project management profession with over 35 years of experience in the telecommunications and project management training environment. Frank is a past president of the PMI Assembly of Chapter Presidents and is the originator of International Project Management Day. In 2006 he received the prestigious Person of the Year Award from PMI for his contributions to the practice of project management.


Spotlight on Virtual Teams – What makes them work?

By Susan Parente, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP, PSM I, CSM, CSPO, CISSP, CRISC, RESILIA, ITIL, GCLP, MSEM

In MBA programs, we often learn methods and techniques for efficient and effective project management. But how do we use these methods when our team is not co-located? In our current age of social networking and global businesses, knowing how to work with virtual teams is becoming a requirement.

If we think about it, we have all worked with a virtual team: professionally, through volunteering, in our communities, or on a personal project. So, how can we use the project management methodologies in our toolbox to support high performing virtual teams?

A virtual team is defined as a group of individuals who work exclusively by using communication technologies to interact with one another while in different areas, and often, different time zones.

What are some of the benefits of virtual teams?

  • Ability to work asynchronously, from anywhere
  • The team can consist of the best of the best (best personnel resources by skill, not limited by location)
  • Reduced expenses and increased productivity

Virtual Collaboration in the Office

You may have worked on a team that was defined as virtual, but have you considered that your current team may be working virtually, even if you are in an office?

What we may not realize it that some of our company office work already requires virtual collaboration. In this 24/7 global environment, which includes working with vendors or supplies from around the world, working after hours, working while on business or personal travel, we email and share documents even with the person who sits next to us – for example, on SharePoint or another document management system. Not to mention phone calls and conference calls, which are both very common forms of virtual communication. Knowledge of virtual teams has become a necessity for project management success.

Even when team members are a few cubicles away, we may find it easier to talk via phone. When team members are in sales or consulting services and frequently meeting with clients, they will primarily communicate via phone or email. How about work we do after hours, on weekends, and while traveling? As well as if we are working with our project team, we are working in a virtual team environment.

The Shift to Virtual Work

What has caused this shift to virtual work? Firstly, the focus on knowledge and information, which has resulted in the proliferation of electronic devices. The internet and social media create an environment which is multicultural, distributed, and asynchronous. Having no boundaries also allows teams and organizations to obtain the most skilled and experienced team members.

Virtual teams also support efficient progress, allowing global teams to work on a project 24 hours a day. As each area ends its day, they can pass their work on to the next set of team members, who have just started their day, in a relay race fashion. Our global economy has also brought businesses to broad locations, which helps businesses’ desire to expand from where their offices are located and include the world in their potential market. If clients or customers can be geographically displaced, why not our teams and organizations? An even better question is, if our environment has transformed so greatly, would it not make sense that we transform ourselves to continue to be effective as project managers and team members?

Benefits to Organizations and Team Members

There is no denying that virtual teams provide a cost savings for organizations. Cost benefits may include reduced travel time (daily commuting and overnight travel) and reduced office space costs (including the reduction in time to set up a new office or company headquarters, to support employees in a particular region). Teleworkers also often pay for their own utilities and office spaces.

There are added benefits to team members, as well, including improved work-life balance and flexibility which has a positive effect on team members’ morale and productivity. This is especially true for employees who have traditionally traveled to work with clients, vendors, or team members (those called “road warriors”).

Virtual meetings also increase communication. Teams don’t need to wait until they have a scheduled off-site meeting or long business trip to communicate effectively, and scheduling is simplified with shorter meetings. One thing to consider is that face-to-face techniques of working with others may no longer be effective when applied in a virtual environment.

Striking a Balance

Yes, there are a number of technologies to support virtual teams and organizations, but how can we use these tools effectively, striking a balance with the project management and people management tools we have used over the years to work collaboratively?

Trust and team leadership are important foundations for building successful virtual teams. The dynamics and tools for virtual teams are not the same as with co-located teams, so simply using these tools without considering new ways of working together will not result in the team performance we expect.

Some say that virtual team will never be as effective as co-located teams. Perhaps it is a matter of using different strategies to support virtual teams. There are certainly a number of successful virtual teams who have completed extensive work in short periods of time, which would otherwise not be possible due to resource constraints if the team members were co-located. Virtual teams can be far more dynamic than traditional teams and have fewer resource constraints than their counterparts.

Through June 30, 2020, we are offering free registration to our on-demand course on Virtual Agile Teams (regularly $850 USD). Learn more and register here >>


About the Author
Susan Parente is a project engineer, consultant, speaker, author, and mentor who leads large complex IT software implementation projects and the establishment of Enterprise PMOs. An IIL Trainer and Consultant, Mrs. Parente is also an Adjunct Professor at Post University, Montclair State University, and the University of Virginia, and a principal consultant at S3 Technologies, LLC. She has 20+ years of experience leading software and business development projects in the private and public sectors, including a decade of experience implementing IT projects for the DoD. Mrs. Parente has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rochester and a MS in Engineering Management from George Washington University.


Key Takeaways from 'The Phoenix Project' DevOps Simulation

By Paul Wilkinson | Owner/Director, GamingWorks

Parts Unlimited Shares Take Another Tumble
‘Once again, the CEO of Parts Unlimited is embarrassed by a tumbling share price as the unions threaten walk-out because of payroll issues caused by failures in the IT systems, and at the same time a credit card leak weakens investor confidence. The issues are put down to human error and IT skills shortages. Once again the company has also failed to make good on its promises to deploy the long-awaited Phoenix Project…’


These were the headlines confronting the team participating in a walk-through of The Phoenix Project DevOps Business Simulation as they failed to effectively collaborate and apply DevOps principles.

The simulation walk-through, held 16 May at IIL headquarters in New York City, was part of a meetup organized by IIL and the DevOps Agile Skills Association (DASA). The meetup was to explore the types of skills required for an IT organization in this age of fast-paced, digital disruption.

The author, Paul Wilkinson, and the DASA DevOps Competence Model  

What is The Phoenix Project?

The Phoenix Project simulation is a dynamic, interactive and classroom-based workshop in which a team of delegates play roles in the ‘Parts Unlimited’ organization. The one-day simulation is a form of experiential learning, or ‘learning-by-doing’, and can be used for a variety of learning objectives such as translating DevOps theory into practice, developing effective communication & collaboration skills, and developing continual learning and improvement skills.

Captured Challenges

During the simulation walk-through we captured challenges the team experienced that they also recognize in their daily work:

Unclear flow of work; work was ping-ponging back and forth.
Unclear insight into the work being done and the business initiatives and goals.
Tester involved too late, lack of insight.
Poor decision making on prioritization.
Priority information not passed downstream.
Filling up workloads with scarce resources, not cross-training to remove skills constraints.
Lack of security insights into work impacting financial data.
Poor business insight into progress.
Lack of insight into impact of issues and technical debt.
Too many assumptions about what was important and what to prioritize
Lack of business understanding and business engagement.
Flow of work kept stopping and going back upstream because of lack of information.
Defects being passed downstream and not being made visible.

These challenges were captured on the team’s visual improvement backlog, revealing the underlying causes for the dramatic news headlines reported above (luckily it was only a simulation, but delegates recognized the stress, frustration and waste that occurs).

We then explored the ‘Three Ways of DevOps’ and collaborated as an end-to-end team to develop a visual management system to help provide a solution to many of these challenges.

The meetup in action!

Captured Takeaways

At the end of this short, interactive learning session the team was asked, ‘What did you discover in this simulation exercise that you need to take away and apply?’

Prioritize skill development and cross training to deal with constraints (e.g. constraints caused by one person’s specialized skill, which limits the amount of work flowing through the system).
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! – Foster and practice active listening, confirm understanding, confirm agreements and decision making, blame-free feedback.
Coaching for communication and collaboration skills, as well as DevOps skills (e.g. stand-ups, retrospectives, Kanban, value stream mapping).
Start fostering more collaboration between end-to-end stakeholders including business.
Agree on ‘collaboration behaviors’ – what behaviors will we see? And coach and give feedback on these behaviors. Practice! Practice until these behaviors become a habit ‘the way we do things here’.
T-shaped skills as a building block to increase flow and remove constraints.
Visibility. Don’t just visualize work, but also visualize improvements.
Team validation of agreed ways of behaving and working, team build visualization together to support their own work and support decision making.
Visibility to support trade off ‘features’ vs ‘defects’, ‘debt’, ‘risks’, ‘improvements’
Reserve WIP for learning and improving (to develop T shaped skills, to remove constraints, to remove waste, to increase flow).
Accept that failure will happen. Experiment. Learn fast & improve.
Ask ‘How does this affect you?’, ‘What information do you need to be able to do your work and make decisions?’
Traceability. Work in progress, work done, work not done. Traceability of planned vs unplanned work and visibility; where does unplanned work come from? Defects passed downstream? What is impact of unplanned work?
Creating buy-in to responsibilities, new ways of working, end-to-end collaboration. This type of session creates that buy-in and captured ‘shared’ takeaway actions.
Shift mentality. ‘DevOps’ is NOT the goal. It is the value and outcomes that are expected.

In Conclusion

The delegates discovered not only the benefits of adopting DevOps principles, but also recognized and experimented with some of the core skills and competencies, as defined in the DASA Competence Model, that are critical for DevOps success.

The delegates also discovered how this type of experiential learning can help translate theory into practice, create end-to-end buy-in, and capture improvements to take away.

Interested in The Phoenix Project DevOps Simulation for your team?
Contact IIL

About the Author
Paul Wilkinson is the co-founder of GamingWorks, a simulation training company based in the Netherlands and a DASA Training Partner. He has been involved in the IT industry for more than 25 years and has a broad background in IT operations, IT management and product innovation and development. He was an ITIL V2 author and member of the ITIL V3 advisory group. He has facilitated 400+ simulations!


Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You

Originally published at Thetrugroup.com

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You | Part 4: Culture Guest Blog Series

[Intro by trugroup.com admin Scott]


“In this interview, Rich Sheridan — founder of Menlo Innovations and author of the new book Chief Joy Officer — shares the trials and tribulations in cultivating and leading a positive work culture in an ever-changing business world.


I first met Rich Sheridan when we toured Menlo Innovations as part of a career transformation program I was leading in 2010, called “Shifting Gears.” I was taken with Rich’s passion for his team and their culture at Menlo as well as his authenticity, evident as he talked about their mistakes and the way they approached change by performing experiments with daily team-generated ideas


A culture conversation would not be complete without including Rich, and I’m excited to share some of his thoughts with you.”

Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

Menlo Innovations was launched on June 12, 2001, at the depth of the dot-com bubble burst. The decision to found an IT-services firm during the darkest day was born out of two basic ideas:

  • We had recently experienced a dramatically positive transformation of a public company, Interface Systems, where I was VP of R&D, and where co-founder James Goebel had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with me on creating that transformation. While the economic tragedy of the internet-bubble burst had caused us all to lose our jobs, this dramatic downturn couldn’t take away what we had learned in that transformation. We knew we could do it again. As I like to say, when the Titanic sank, it took a perfectly good engine room with it, and it wasn’t the engine room’s fault.
  • A downturn is actually an excellent time to start a business because everything — real estate, equipment, office furniture, you name it — is less expensive! There is also an abundance of available talent seeking work.

We wanted to bring to Menlo Innovations what we had experienced at Interface Systems: teamwork, energy, results and positive culture.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

Culture was a focus right from the start. We were all in the later stages of our careers and wanted to do something meaningful and compelling. We were past the life stage of simply needing a job. We knew we could all find a job. We wanted something we could build that would last and would have impact. Our belief is that an intentionally positive culture was the only way to do that, and intentionally positive cultures were rare. We wanted rare because it energized us and we knew it would energize our team and those whom we serve.

We started this focus by teaching our culture to others. We began offering all-day classes. It was one of our first offerings to teach our “Why” (namely, to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology and return joy to software) and our “How” (i.e., the processes and practices of the Menlo Software Factory).

Q: What are three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?

Successes:

  • We instituted a brand-new way of hiring that we dubbed “Extreme Interviewing” which energized a very tired process in most organizations. We interview without reviewing resumes and without asking questions. Rather, we conduct an unusual audition.
  • We focused on the physical space of Menlo, and we got lucky and found a compelling wide-open space in which to build our team and practice that was consistent with the values we espoused of openness, transparency, teamwork and collaboration.
  • We opened our doors to tours so that people could come and see exactly what it was we’re describing in words. Those tours quickly increased to more than 1,000 visitors per year and now number between 3,000 and 4,000 per year.

What got in the way:

  • Our intention was to build a team that would operate in this compelling space that we had. Our early clients wanted our staff members to work at their locations. We agreed and started putting staff in several locations around Ann Arbor. This thwarted our ability to grow the culture we intended to build, because we just weren’t spending enough time with each other. Whenever a client engagement ended, half of the team that worked there would end up taking another job with another company.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through Menlo Innovations today?

The good news is that you could join the thousands who come every year from all over the world to see it firsthand. I often get to walk through our front door with visitors, hoping to catch their initial reaction. Typically, the first word out of their mouths is “Wow,” because they can feel the human energy of our team. You walk in and hear the noise of work, see people working shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at a shared computer and keyboard. You hear laughter. You’re likely greeted by a Menlo dog or two. You might hear the sound of a baby brought in by a parent that day. The space is bright, colorful and visual. Our most important artifacts are push-pinned to the wall, and draw the attention of our visitors. These artifacts include handcrafted posters with our most important cultural values, including a great Frank Zappa quote: ‘The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.’ They also see our famous work authorization boards which outline the daily and weekly project work of our team. The projects are described on handwritten index cards and their status is reported with colorful sticky dots, using strings of yarn to mark the current day in each plan so we instantly know whether we are ahead or behind without having to ask.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

I sit out in the room with everyone else. There is no corner office for me. While, as CEO, I will always get a skewed view of the culture, this presence knocks down a lot of the barriers. Many executives will declare that they have an open-door policy. I can’t do that. I don’t have a door.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

Know that change begins with you. You have to become the example to lead a dramatic change. I was taught to be a different kind of leader early in my career. I had to unlearn some things and re-learn others. Ultimately, I found that if I could learn how to bring my authentic self to work and share my joy in the present and my hope for the future, I could set the stage for a very positive and intentional culture. This kind of leadership requires the ability to envision a bright future and to pay attention to the minute details of running the business today.

My other broad advice is to stay in learner mode, and one of the best ways to do that is to read. Culture is not a program or an initiative that is separate from our daily work. Culture is the way we work.

Hear more from Rich Sheridan at IIL’s first Leadership & Innovation Conference 2019

For more ways to learn about Menlo, or Rich Sheridan, view the original article here.