Nine Strategies for Building a Great Virtual Team

It’s relatively easy to put a band of people together, and it’s much more challenging to know how to put the right people in place, creating the ideal environment for them to thrive and providing them with the structures for them to succeed. Especially as people work more remotely and especially from home, creating that level of unity, camaraderie, collaboration and inspiration maybe even be further challenging.

I was having a meeting with the president of an ad agency who was telling me about the real trust issues among his team. People were being combative, there wasn’t harmony or alignment. He said, “I have the solution—we need to go out and have more cocktails and dinners together.” While it’s great for coworkers to have fun together, team happy hours are not in and of themselves what makes for strong connections between team members. Margaritas may be fun to have as a group. However, they won’t solve pervasive issues of trust, respect, and safety. Especially now that so many people are working virtually, this strategy especially won’t hold up.

I’ve found that when teams come together, especially virtually, there are several vital steps that get overlooked to create the context and the foundation for them to be an actual unit, working in alignment. Here are the strategies for how to form a team that has lasting power:

1)Team Commitment. Saying that you are all part of Marketing or Finance or Human Resources or Sales, or “Our Company,” isn’t enough. Physical or organizational proximity does not necessarily motivate people to partner together. The context of why the group is together, what you are creating and how you are creating it is critical. I call this a “Team Commitment” – what as a team are you committing to creating and doing to live the organizational vision. The questions to answer are: “Why are we here together as a team? What are we working together to achieve?” It should be something bigger than any individual, something that can only be accomplished by a united team. This Team Commitment is the “glue” that holds a team together. A team commitment statement is aspirational.

2)Impact Guide. The impact the team can make with each other and on those outside of the group is dependent upon how they want to operate or run the group together. You may call this the “rules of the road” for the team or I call this an “Impact Guide.” It’s as if the group is acting as COO over their own workings. It helps if you have what is sometimes referred to as a “working agreement,” essentially describing how the team will work together. Topics may include how the team will handle decision making, collaboration, communication, team advocacy, empowerment, and autonomy. Specific examples within those categories might include things such as: timeliness, meeting protocol, decision making ability, collaboration, creating visibility for each team member throughout the organization.

The agreements would ideally drill down into specifics, such as: How often will the team meet? What will be discussed?—For example, will each person share a status update? How will the team handle people not attending—who will update them? Who will run the meetings? What if that person is not around? Have all these things outlined, because invariably something is not going to flow the way it’s supposed to, and it’ll be less stressful if there’s a plan in place.

You can only have teams that operate in a dignified way if you create a structure and if people have clarity as far as the direction of the team and the expectations of the team.

3)Goals and priorities. Once the Team Commitment and Impact Guide is established, the team should agree together on the specific goals and outcomes they are aiming for. What progress is the team aiming to achieve together? How will they measure that progress? This may include financial and non-financial targets. What are the priorities? Each individual is going to have their own projects and focus and priorities, and there should also be team priorities, what “we” are working on, not just what “I” am working on. Make sure you follow up on these decisions by tracking the team’s progress in reaching your goals. Schedule regular times to evaluate team progress.

4)Collective leadership. Everyone on the team takes responsibility for the team’s success, that all members operate with the same purpose and commitment as the leader. Collective leadership takes the ownership of the team from the team leader’s hands and puts it in the hands of everyone. How does each individual take responsibility for the team being successful? A simple example is, if a team is supposed to meet every week and the team leader is unable to be there, with collective leadership the meeting will still happen, and the team collectively decides who will lead the meeting or the team jointly leads the meeting and then updates the team leader. Progress isn’t stalled because the leader isn’t there. People come together to fill the gap and meet the need, because everyone is invested, committed, and feels responsible for the team.

5)Standards and boundaries. Standards are what you hold yourself to, how you choose to show up in the world. Boundaries are how you teach people how to treat you.. On a team, it is essential to have both team standards and team boundaries, as well as for team members to know the standards and boundaries of other individuals on the team, especially working as a virtual team.

6)Roles and responsibilities. Each person on the team has their role, and everyone should have clarity about what is expected of whom. Also, besides areas of expertise and responsibility, people have different values and interests, and it’s ideal to align those with the responsibilities people take on. For example, one person might be passionate about talent development. Maybe someone else is very focused on people being educated and up to speed on what’s happening in the industry. So maybe on your team you divvy up those areas of responsibility accordingly. While it’s everybody’s responsibility to develop talent, maybe one of the leaders can be the champion in that area; meanwhile, someone else takes the lead in learning and development.

7)Communication agreements. In the same vein as operating agreements, it’s critical to have agreements on how the group will communicate. Also, what happens when there is disagreement among the team? How are people going to work together when there is conflict? How are they going to disagree? How are they going to debate? And what happens when people are not upholding their commitments? How will that be communicated to them, and by whom? All of this must be discussed.

8)Resources. What resources does the team have, and what additional resources does it need, to be successful? Talent, financing, skill sets, coaching support, a budget for teams and individuals bonding and developing relationships, etc., should all be considered.

9)Rewards and recognition. How will the group celebrate? How will you reward each other? Along with celebrating and recognizing accomplishments, which is good for morale, it also allows for more intersections, because unless you bring everyone together, some people’s paths may rarely cross other than in your regular team meetings.

Celebrating success is essential, and I find that many teams are challenged with doing it. I think it helps if you create norms around it: Have a plan ahead of time for what will get celebrated. You might decide “The first thing that we accomplish together as a team, we’ll celebrate.” Integrate appreciation and commendation and celebration into your team virtual interactions.

These nine strategies will assist you in getting your team started on the right foot. The next step is making sure the strategies are integrated into the team’s everyday behavior, interactions and operations. Putting processes in place may work well for your team, and revisiting the agreements you’ve made and ensuring they still work is equally as important. Revisit your Team Commitment and team goals every 90 days. If you have evaluation tools for individuals, why not have check ins for the team?

Ask yourselves at regular intervals how you are doing. Are you using the Team Commitments as a filter to make decisions as a collective? How are you doing in reaching your goals? By having a regular cadence of checking in on the team as well as readjusting as you go, will ensure the team’s success.


Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.

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