Manage a virtual team

Let’s continue our discussion on virtual companies today, specifically on how to manage a virtual team. After having discussed the growing trend of companies turning virtual, its reasons and tools to use, we would like to share some more experience on how to manage a virtual team. Most of the tools we use are based on the book Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t (Rockefeller Habits 2.0) which we cannot recommend more enough and which is as well part of our Top Startup books list.

You want to know how to manage a virtual team? Start with communication

The biggest challenge in how to manage a virtual team is communication among the team members. When being in an office, there is a lot of informal communication going on. Informal communication helps team members to connect and build relationships but as well to exchange information and knowledge which is relevant for doing your job.

When working in a virtual team, most of your communication is planned. You schedule a call to discuss specific topics. Thus, unplanned communication such as chit-chatting over a coffee does normally not happen within a virtual team. But especially this informal communication can have a great impact on the efficiency of your work. Informal communication allows you to skip official reporting lines in order to quickly gain access to information or advice needed to complete a certain work task.

Imagine you have a small challenge with your computer. I am not talking about the computer not working anymore but rather something small which would make your life much easier. Think of adding a spelling checker for Spanish language to your word processing program (if you still work offline). If you follow the official channel, you have to create a work ticket for the IT department and then in some days, someone will take care of it. Now in an office setup you may have a coffee with the IT guy and ask him for a favor of quickly checking your system. In a virtual setup, this informal channel is still possible but more difficult.

The access to specific knowledge become more formal and this is what scares people away. By making a small issue formal, you add a certain importance to the topic can make the small issue a big issue.

Organize Daily Huddles for your team

The key communication tool we use how to manage a virtual team are everyday 15 minutes meetings called daily huddles which are the most effective meetings you can have with your team. The purpose of a daily huddle is to check in with every team member and learn about their day. What is everyone busy with? Does anyone has any challenge? How can the group help?

Key characteristics of a daily huddle are:

  • Time of the day – it should be scheduled as early as possible. This might be challenging in a virtual team spread over different time zones. Then pick a time which is in the morning hours of most of the participants.
  • Length – ideally 5 to 15 minutes depending of the team size. In a virtual setup we dealt as well with up to 30 minutes huddles
  • Number of participants – Ideally teams not bigger than 7 people. If you have bigger teams, think about splitting them for the huddle but bringing them together in your weekly meeting
  • Who attends – Everyone in your company should attend at least one daily huddle.
  • Who runs it – We have played around with different leads. Normally it would be a senior person in the team but in general, everyone can run a huddle.

A typical agenda could look like this:

  1. What’s up – Talking about what has every team member accomplished since the last meeting. Since the meeting is happening daily, those accomplishments are normally small but important steps. It ensures accountability.
  2. Progress / Numbers – This section is linked to your company’s metrics. Are you on track with for example your user growth
  3. Roadblocks – Any problem you have in completing you task? Share them here
  4. Celebration – Time to celebrate success is here. You hit the 100 follower on twitter? Share it with the team here.

Apart of the daily huddle, you may want to add a weekly 60-90 minutes meeting and monthly management meeting to your scheduled communication. The Rockefeller Habits recommend this meeting schedule:

  • Daily Huddle – 15 minutes
  • Weekly Team Meeting – 60 to 90 minutes
  • Monthly Management Meeting – half to full day
  • Quarterly and Annual Meeting – one to three days

The use of planned and short daily huddles has been a key tool for us on how to manage a virtual team. What are your experiences?

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