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. 

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!


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!


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.)


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.


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.

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.

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?


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.

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.

Tips for Working from Home During the Covid-19 Crisis

As we face the current societal and organizational struggles of a worldwide health crisis, many employees and teams are finding themselves working from home for the first time, or for the first time on a daily basis. Managing a virtual team isn’t easy, and it’s easy to become disconnected from your team members if you are used to working in an office environment. The key to organizational success in a work from home setting is communication. Keep in touch. Over communicating is far better than under-communicating. Establishing a routine and habit of being responsive and proactive with your team members and superiors is the best way to ensure success in a virtual team. Here are some other tips for working from home:

Getting Started

  • It’s easy to work a 16-hour day from home – so don’t! Schedule your day. Establish some structure by documenting when you are supposed to start and finish. It’s easy to keep working or return to work late in the evening, as you have everything you need right there. But it’s healthier to maintain set work hours, and your superiors may have specific hour requirements for you so be sure to establish this right away.


  • Before getting straight to work, set up your home office. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it needs to be separate from the home activities, especially since many kids are out of school. It should have the basic supplies so that you don’t have to go search for a pen and paper if you need to take notes and your computer suddenly freezes. Make it your own, and make it cozy but structured. Sit up straight and maintain a general office environment. This will keep your head in “office mode” and less likely to drift off-task


  • Install any new software or communications tools and apps being used to increase productivity and communication among teams and employees. MS Teams and Skype or Skype for Business are the primary messaging and meeting apps. Use Toggl or other handy tools to track your time. Use Project Management tools and charts for maintenance tasks. Trello and MeisterTask are the most commonly used at IIL. We can assist you in setting up and managing these boards.


  • Tell your family what your requirements, hours, deadlines, and rules will be. Let them know what to expect, and how important it is to not be interrupted during work hours. Working from home needs to be as similar to your office working environment as possible to stay on track. Let them know you have obligations that have to be met, and set clear boundaries for breaks and when it is okay to interrupt.
To to support all of our clients in this time of global crisis, we are offering free registration to our self-paced, online course on Virtual Agile Teams 

Day to Day Operations

  • Get dressed!! Don’t make the mistake of lounging in your pajamas. Waking up and doing a normal daily routine will keep you on track. Splash some water on your face, wear a decent blouse or button-up, particularly for face to face virtual meetings.


  • Avoid bringing work into the family environment. If you have deadlines, escalations, and other intense (which is code for “stressful”) situations, be aware of the impact it can have on your family members. They may see or overhear you handling difficult issues and, as a result, they might internalize that stress or worry.


  • Manage your home time carefully. Not having that commute can be fantastic. In fact, staying home makes it easier to engage in family time. But it’s important to manage it so you don’t get burned out by being home all day (and night).


  • Be respectful and patient of other team members’ home office environments. Some folks will have home offices that are well established, with a professional look and configuration. Others, who are new to working from home, may not. Some may struggle to carve out a workspace in their homes or need to share that work environment with a spouse or significant other, which can cause background noise and distractions. If you hear a dog bark or a baby cry, please be patient with them, and try to minimize noises in your home office as much as possible.


  • Structure your day with breaks. Walk the block, smell the roses, or do a call from the garden. If the walls start closing in, change your scenery. Rest your eyes and stretch your legs every hour for just a few minutes.


  • Schedule lunch and eat it away from your office. Don’t put in 12-hour days (or later) with back-to-back calls and forget to eat or eat poorly. You need both a mental and nutritional break, so take a lunch break. But do it away from your computer. Read a magazine or a book, or catch up on personal messages.
  • Don’t forget to exercise. Some folks will squeeze in a quick run, hit the Peloton, or go to the gym for 30 minutes. Follow their leads – it’s a great way to clear out the mental cobwebs and re-energize your body.


  • Schedule quick 10-minute calls with colleagues or friends. Under normal office circumstances, you might enjoy catching up with folks over the water cooler. While you are home, simulate that connection by scheduling WebEx calls with your buddies. Talking to them not only refreshes your brain but is great therapy.
  • Avoid taking personal calls during work hours. Extended family should know about your situation to avoid interruptions.


  • BE AVAILABLE. Don’t make your superiors or team members hunt you down. Respond to emails immediately, even if you are simply letting someone know you’ve received the message. In times like this, communication is of the utmost importance, as things are confusing enough with these new ways of life and everyone is trying to manage new work environments during the biggest health crises and societal disruptions in our lifetimes. So it is very easy to get distracted and forget you have promised someone a task will be done. Set timers and reminders to help you remember.


  • Don’t underestimate the benefits of a digital assistant. Siri, Alexa, and Bixby can all help you with reminders and lists and will integrate into many of the tools you will be using.


  • If you are able to order high-speed internet, you will be a lot less frustrated with your WFH experience. There are many service providers offering much lower prices during this crisis


Read more about Managing Virtual Teams Successfully from Dr. Willis Thomas, PMP, CPT.  His publications have received global recognition from associations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) where he received the Cleland Award for “The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned.”


About the Author

Roxi Nevin has worked in the support, On-Demand learning, and marketing departments for the International Institute for Learning for seven years. She is also the administrator of operations for the Center for Grateful Leadership. With an educational background in History, Psychology, Business administration and the tech sector, and a previous professional background in political action, her writings based on these broad experiences of topics in these areas have been published in various online publications and blogs. She currently writes a monthly column called Grateful Parenting. She enjoys cooking, painting, and photography in her spare time.


Managing Virtual Teams Successfully

By Dr. Willis H. Thomas, PMP, CPT 

Virtual teams are becoming more of the norm for organizations as they strive to acquire the best talent from anywhere in the world, minimize overhead everywhere on the earth and stretch their global presence on a worldwide basis.

Building High-Performance Teams necessitates that we utilize innovative tools and techniques to engage the audience. A study from MIT Sloan found “dispersed teams can actually outperform groups that are co-located teams, provided the right type of collaboration is in place.

As virtual teams move through the typical stages of team development (i.e., Tuckman model of forming-storming-norming-performing), they can benefit from a Simple Interactive Meaningful Practical Learning Exercise (SMILE).

Some may think of these engaging activities as games; however, while they are intended to be fun, the benefits should not be underestimated in terms of the potential positive impact they can have on team performance.

Two outcomes should be considered in the following examples:

  1. Quantitative Perspective
    • Decreasing employee turnover
    • Reducing job-related and personal stress
    • Increasing job satisfaction
    • Enhancing team relationships
    • Sustaining motivation through the number of reported productive hours
  2. Qualitative Perspective
    • Improving problem-solving skills
    • Inspiring creative thinking skills
    • Encouraging critical thinking capabilities
    • Strengthening interpersonal skills
    • Minimizing negative team conflict

As a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT), I have come to look at the value that SMILEs can have on teams from the perspective of Return on Investment (ROI) and Return on Quality (ROQ). First let’s keep the concept of ROI basic, which is in this context:



Applying this equation to a real-life example, if the cost for rolling out a SMILE activity = $10,000 and the estimated value of the program is $100,000 (considering quantitative and/or qualitative factors such as listed above):



This number is not exaggerated. For example, Malcolm Baldrige ROI has been computed as high as 700%. So considering that SMILE activities have a no cost to low-cost proposition, the computed ROI will typically be very high. This provides justification in allowing the virtual team to participate in the activity. SMILE cost may also take into consideration the amount of time that people are spending on developing the “gaming activity” during work hours as well as participating in it. So COMMON SENSE should be at the forefront to manage the perception of how these activities are facilitated.

The premise is that if it is worth doing, it is worth measuring. The COMMON CENTS philosophy means:

  • C = Calculate
  • E= Every
  • N= Necessary
  • T=Teaming
  • S=Situation

The bottom line is not only a financial measure, but we also need to consider the non-monetary benefits. ROQ takes into account the Cost of Quality (COQ) — prevention and appraisal costs. In this context, PREVENTION cost refers to the expense that is incurred to prevent defects, errors or a lack of desired performance; whereas APPRAISAL cost, or INSPECTION cost, is the expense incurred to identify defects, errors or lack of performance. To this end, expenditures that are reviewed to ensure that a team will function optimally might include factors such as:

  • Web-based platforms for collaboration, i.e., WebEx or GoToMeeting
  • Webcam equipment for real-time video conversation
  • Shared drive storage for document access

Set yourself up for success with IIL's course on Building High Performance Teams

Evolution of Learning Exercises for Collaboration

No one author or source can take credit for the evolution of learning exercises for virtual teams. Online gaming collaboration can be traced back to the introduction of the personal computer and software developers and came to life in the early 1990s when the Internet was introduced. Telecommunications also ran a parallel track, but slightly earlier when McGraw-Hill introduced Games Trainers Play (Newstrom and Scannel, 1980) and 201 Icebreakers (West, 1997). These McGraw-Hill publications refer to Experiential Learning Exercises, group mixers, warm-ups, energizers and playful activities.

Types of Interactive Exercises

There are a variety of interactive exercises that a virtual team can participate in such as:

  • Board Games
  • Video Simulations
  • Role Plays
  • Quizzes
  • Get-to-Know
  • Research
  • Trivia
  • Ice-breakers
  • Virtual escape rooms
  • And much more…

The investment a team will make in a SMILE will vary based on the following factors that can be thought of in terms of the competing demands:

  • Cost: How much it will be to finance, i.e., one time vs. license fee if applicable
  • Time: Length of time of the activity
  • Scope: Frequency – how often
  • Quality: Complexity – how challenging
  • Risk: Uncertainties that may be encountered in implementation
  • Resources: Number of participants, software, and systems required, facilities, etc.

Here are some examples of SMILEs that I began to create in 2004 in conjunction with my dissertation that focused specifically on project management. (These examples are referenced on my academic website at on the Support tab.)

Later, my dissertation topic would be condensed into a book titled The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned that won the 2012 Project Management Institute (PMI)® Cleland Award. Since that time, I have delivered speaking engagements on an international basis that discuss concepts from this book.

Example: Transferring Essential Lessons Learned

This Monopoly-style game enables the card deck to be customized with lessons learned. It supports up to 10 players to share lessons learned (i.e., agile retrospectives). This SMILE with the source code is made freely available with the purchase The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned.

Taking Great Concepts and Creating a SMILE

In this example, I will look at Grateful Leadership by Judy Umlas. She is a recognized author that discusses how to use the Power of Acknowledgment to “Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results.”

Whenever SMILEs are associated with acknowledgment, it can create wonderful fireworks. In this example, the objective is to drive performance through recognition. A survey could be created that drives a visual dashboard of all team members participating in a specific initiative. As feedback is received, the dashboard displays the status of performance in real-time. Examples of how this could be used are solution centers (also referred to as help desks).

Solution Center Performance Example

In the above example, using this dashboard could allow stakeholders to change their ratings on demand; hence affecting the dashboard. A prize (i.e., $15 lunch gift certificate at a popular restaurant) could be associated with the highest score at the end of the month.

SMILE Development Tools

Getting started with SMILE should be easy; however, it should also allow for growth and challenges to keep it interesting. Most of the things that need to be created can be done with Microsoft Office, i.e., Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. For the dashboard example above, this will require macros in Microsoft Excel. For the TELL example above, this will require knowledge of HTML. For those over-performers, they may even consider developing an app that can run on an iPhone and Android platform. The key here is to make it engaging and enjoy the process as you enhance virtual team collaboration.


About the Author

Willis H. Thomas, PhD, PMP, CPT has worked for large corporations and academic institutions in the areas of human resources, learning and development, quality assurance, project management, sales and marketing, measurement and evaluation, and operations.

He has been in senior management for life sciences companies for the past 15 years. Dr. Thomas is a member of adjunct faculty at the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, International Institute for Learning and Institute of Validation Technology.

His publications have received global recognition from associations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) where he received the Cleland Award for “The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned.” This book was an 8-year effort that enhanced the framework for the evaluation of projects using the PMBOK® Guide.

He has been a featured speaker on an international basis and has received the Apex Publication Excellence Award for implementing useful tools for project management, evaluation and training.