The digital revolution has brought about a major shift in the way teams are created. Geography is no longer a factor as people don’t have to be in the same office in order to efficiently work on the same project. This comes with a lot of advantages: people can have great job opportunities without having to relocate or commute, while companies get to hire the best talent without great logistic expenses.
However, the challenges are also considerable, especially when it comes not only to a virtual team but to a virtual and global one. It’s one thing to work with people that belong to fairly the same culture and another to have to deal with significant differences in values, beliefs and communication styles.
The DOs of training virtual global teams
As always, it’s pertaining to the L&D team to find ways of assisting global teams in working together, overcoming obstacles and getting qualitative results in a timely manner. There are several factors to be taken into consideration and due to the diversity of today’s employees, different solutions might work for different individuals or smaller groups.
This is quite different than the classic approach to training and coaching teams. It’s a question of people, processes and purpose as well as one having to do with diversity and inclusion. Teams need to develop a common language, to identify their strengths and weaknesses and have the ability to self-diagnose gaps and identify appropriate solutions.
Here’s how L&D specialists can help:
Identify the purpose and the knowledge and skills necessary to support it
Modern employees have values that are very different from their predecessors. One of the reasons why having virtual global teams works is that all the different individuals belonging to various cultures and geographical areas stick to the same things.
Purpose does not have to do with organizational objectives, though this ought to be somehow connected to what people in that organization feel it’s worth putting in an effort for.
Once it’s clear what the common purpose is, finding out what needs to be learned, brushed upon or created from scratch should come naturally. These initial findings will act as the foundation of any learning program designed to support virtual global teams.
Define the team’s cultural values
As diverse as its members might be, any team is built around some core values that people either have as a result of personal experience, upbringing or social interaction. The good news is that research done back in the nineties by Schwartz and Bilsky revealed that there are some values that are universally valid:
- restrictive conformity
- security and
Starting from these and with the intervention of all team members, a clear picture of what team values look like can be developed. It’s crucial, however, to let everyone have a say and don’t start conversations based on assumptions. Also, it is about finding the values, not showing forward whatever is stated in the company’s mission statement.
Define the hierarchical structure and workflow
This should be done starting from the team values. It is not a matter of “who is the boss” but one of “who has to do what” and visible accountability. Lack of clear structure can put a virtual global team in a great disadvantage. It’s important to have clearly defined standards and an online workflow to support all the processes.
While the design of work procedures does not pertain to L&D directly, figuring out what they are and how they can be improved will give a good image of what skills and competencies have to be addressed by the learning program. It’s a good idea to also have a central hub for information as it can be very helpful to all involved.
Encourage collaboration instead of competition
One of the main issues virtual global teams face is distrust. Some members may feel that they work more or put in a bigger effort than others and as a result may try to either stand out themselves or start nothing short of a quest to prove that others are not doing their jobs as well as they should (often this surfaces in the form of emails sent with numerous people in carbon copy).
It is crucial that there is a substantial amount of transparency regarding everyone’s role in a project. As for instructional designers, they should come up with learning material that is tailored to the specific needs of the virtual team and that places the focus on collaboration by showing its advantages as well as providing the tools necessary for it to be a fruitful one.
Virtual global teams are becoming more and more frequent in organizations worldwide. They come with a new way of doing things and with a very different interpersonal dynamic that needs to be optimized in order for them to be truly successful.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.