Yes! All of the meetings should have a short icebreaker, even your daily stand-up. Icebreakers allow for team members to quickly chat about a topic/activity that you have proposed.

Why?

Team Motivation SmallA part of your team works far away from the main headquarters, and you have started to notice that those team members are slowly disconnecting: they are less communicative, participate less in meetings, and seem to be less engaged. The truth is that they are lonely and feel very disconnected, fix it with icebreakers.

It only takes 5 minutes to start building up trust, as well as bonding, between team members. The first step to good communication is trust. Team activities, like icebreakers, are the only way for you to build a team where communication flows well, and where people are not afraid to ask each other questions.

How?

  • Explain the activity.
  • Define the order that team members will follow to ensure that everybody participates.
  • Establish a time for each person to speak, ensuring that the meeting will not revolve around one person that talks too much, as well as encouraging others to go beyond only giving one-word answers.

Examples of icebreakers:

Share your interests

  1. Send out an email, several days before the start of the meeting, asking participants to choose something that is meaningful to them (e.g., a shirt, award, photo, etc.).
  2. Have them prepare a short description about what they will be sharing.
  3. Start the video conference and instruct team members that they will have one minute to show the item via their webcam and talk about it. Encourage team members to ask questions.

Timing: Give a 2-min. explanation of the icebreaker, 2 min. per participant, and a 1-min. summary by the facilitator at the end.

Song sharing

  1. Kick off the idea by beginning a team meeting with a song that has a significant meaning to you.
  2. Have the music playing as the team joins the call.
  3. Make sure all team members hear at least some of the song.
  4. After the song is over, explain to the team why you chose the song as your "theme song." Providing an in-depth explanation will set the tone for the rest of the team when it's their turn.
  5. Let the team know that a different person will start the team meetings in the same manner until everyone has had a chance to play his or her song.

Timing: 5 minutes.

Ask random questions

assertiveAsk 1 question that everybody in the team has to answer. Examples:

  • What book are you currently reading?
  • What is the last movie you saw?
  • What do you like about the city where you live?
  • What do you usually eat for breakfast? (An especially interesting question for multicultural teams.)

Timing: Give a 2-min. explanation of the icebreaker, max 1 min. per participant, and a 1-min. summary at the end.

Find hundreds of icebreakers for free here!

Learn all the tricks about how to hold successful online activities!


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Virtual communication is a new way of approaching people, that requires following a certain protocol, since it can't rely on the effect of physical presence. However, thanks to the many practical and useful tools available through current technology and online human resources, using the virtual mode doesn't have to be an impediment to maintaining good communication between team members.

Some virtual communication challenges within work teams

  • Non-verbal language: Communication in the virtual world must be understood without the aid of the face-to-face element: non-verbal language, such as gestures and movements, etc. We recommend you not to use conference calls and to start using video for all your communications.
  • Message reception: Sometimes emails or messages can be misinterpreted, and can lead to confusion, which can cause isolation among team members.
  • Multicultural teams: Cultural and time zone differences can distort meaning and cause widely diverse work dynamics.
  • Technical communication errors: Although virtual communication is the product of technology, sometimes errors can cause interference and make communication between work team members difficult.

Communication process within a virtual work team

  1. Activate virtual communication channels at all company levels and make them bidirectional.
    • How? Create spaces in all the meeting for people to express themselves.
  2. Establish basic protocol in order to maintain a favorable collaborative environment and communication within the work team.
    • How? During meetings create turns and send the agenda 2 days before the meeting so everybody can prepare.
  3. Detect negativity issues that arise within the team in order to address them and solve them.
    • How? Take the person aside and talk on a 1:1 basis with them. Speak quietly and actively listen to your team.
  4. Create strategies in order to strengthen participation and active listening, and thus fostering a team voice.
    • How? Use team activities related to your project that will create a safe environment and make shy people speak up.
  5. Set up feedback and reporting processes that permit clear and complete access to project information.
    • How? Distributed teams need super communication and a lot of effort from the manager, make sure you are providing guidance in an assertive way to your team.
  6. Foment bridges of virtual communication between team members in order to foment synergy and teamwork.
    • How? Empower your team by letting team members meet with other team members and participate in transversal projects. This way you will avoid boredom.
  7. Plan and carry out virtual encounters with the work team in order to strengthen team cohesion, a sense of belonging and confidence among team members.
    • How? Prepare monthly meetings that always start with an ice-breaker and that lets team members find ways to solve their problems and be creative.
  8. Create a prevention plan in order to avoid breakdowns in communication. In this short course you will learn how to prepare meetings with your distributed team.
    • How? Use the right technology: stop using conference calls and start using video. A big part of the message we perceive comes from body language, the more information we have, the less misunderstandings there will be. 

Tools to strengthen virtual communication

diversity

  • Creation of a virtual space that represents the office; for instance, a team "chatroom", forums, etc.
  • Support documentation and material such as manuals, reports, feedback, templates, checklists, etc.
  • Video conferences and teleconferences that help to improve communication and work relations. Learn how to promote internal communication in the distributed office.
  • Use collaboration tools so you can have less meetings and less emails. You don't know which ones are good for you? We can help you, just contact us.
  • When email is necessary, send clear and friendly emails.
  • Forums in which the team can interchange ideas.
  • Virtual parties and events that strengthen group synergy.

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Today, it is common to find that business and human relationships are globalizing, in turn generating alternative work dynamics such as distributed teams.

A Major Challenge:

We face a constantly changing reality linked to new labor dynamics that have emerged with the impact of technology, telecommunications and the ability to quickly close geographical gaps more easily.

distributed teams by Victor1558As companies become increasingly global and begin to occupy different geographical areas, so arises the need to distribute workers across different parts of the world but with a significant need for connectivity between them. It is here that the work team is confronted by a paradigm shift: to change from a physical, in person team to a distributed team where people span across different cities and even countries, and a high tendency towards multiculturalism.

Even though in most cases workers have physical offices and working spaces, they still must take steps to address this cultural shift that calls for a transition and adaptation on the part of workers to the new structure and dynamics that distributed work brings, with different types of communications and strategies for maintaining a good working environment.

Resistance to change is the main factor that gives human beings difficulties in the adaptation process, where there is also a risk of running into the following problematic situations:

  • Disruption of the work team
  • Disruption of the work process
  • Resistance to change and difficulty adapting to the new dynamics
  • Demotivation
  • Breakdown in communication
  • Dehumanization in long distance relationships
  • Lack of knowledge about technological advancements

What to do? The most effective solution: put in place the Online Culture

With this paradigm shift comes the need to create a pleasant working environment in both the in-person and remote workplace in order to allow the transition and change process to be assimilated in a proactive and healthy way. It is also essential to create the conditions to reinforce the virtual team as a new way of going about the day-to-day. It is therefore advisable not to lose sight of the following aspects that will help build a good online culture:

  1. Change Management and monitoring of the team's adaptation and transition process.

  2. Contain the cultural change transition process: Give support for the human capital in the team.

  3. Raising awareness and building knowledge of the virtual relationship and distributed teams. New relationships, which when well managed, provide excellent opportunities for multicultural exchange and richness.

  4. Recognition of the new dynamic as a distributed team and virtual proximity.

  5. Generate synergy and connectivity with one another even while not sharing the same geographical location.

  6. Foster virtual spaces in order to humanize the workplace and strengthen the human potential.

  7. Empower team members in order to encourage autonomous and self directed work.

  8. Implement collective leadership strategies in order to reinforce the distributed team.

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According to the study in The Economist, "Competing Across Borders," the two threats against the success of companies with cultural diversity in the workplace are differences in cultural traditions, and differences in workplace standards.

Need to Push Back Boundaries

With the current economic situation in Europe and the United States, many companies are taking their chance at opening foreign markets and exporting their products. As a result, they will bring even more cultural diversity in the workplace, which in turn will lead to the establishment of even more international relations than before.

A Company's Progress Depends on Understanding Multicultural Differences

Big companies are starting to realize the importance of considering cultural factors when working with multinational teams, as ensuring that collaborations between people from different countries go smoothly and successfully is a key consideration for companies with international aspirations.

43% of the companies surveyed in the study by The Economist think that communication problems have affected transactions like sales, supplier contracts, mergers, acquisitions, expansions of capital, and so forth, within their company. Seeing this type of data leads many companies to start making their employees learn not only languages, but how to understand the way other cultures think and work.

cultural diversity in the workplaceNew Need in Companies

In view of this picture, most companies see that they should set aside part of their budget to help their employees communicate, understand and manage expectations during their dealings with multicultural teams.

As Nancy J. Adler, author of International dimensions of organizational behavior notes, "There is a misconception that just because reaching someone across the world is as easy as calling them via Skype or sending them an email, that you're really communicating in the best way." New technology without a doubt is a great help, but it's important not forget the educational, social and work contexts of the people who we communicate with.

Solutions for The Global World

We, the members of the Managing Virtual Teams staff, have set out to help all of the companies that are dealing with cultural diversity in the workplace. This means we are helping both remote or virtual teams and colocated teams alike. Our experience working with people all across the world can help companies maximize the achievement of their business goals. Contact us for more information!

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palmi

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