Certifying virtual teams – a key skill in digital workplace implementation

by | Nov 17, 2014 | Digital workplace, Information Management, Intranets

A few weeks ago I was giving a presentation on the vision and reality of digital workplaces at the JBoye 2014 Aarhus conference. I never understand why the right to ask questions is only applicable to delegates so I started of with one of my favourite questions. “How many of you regularly work in virtual teams?”  Virtually everyone in the room, around 50 delegates, raised their hand. I then asked “How many of you have a training programme for virtual team membership and leadership?” Only two people raised their hands. In most job positions in an organisation there will be a an engineer comes to service a piece of equipment, be it a photocopier or a CAT scan machine, you would rightly expect that they have been trained and certified for the skills needed to effect both diagnosis and repair.

I’ve been involved in managing virtual teams since 1974 (that is not a misprint!) and I am constantly learning about better ways to gain the benefit from working virtually. At the Legal KIM Breakfast I am running with Paul Corney in London next month I will be taking about the benefits of tying a balloon on a telephone. To learn more come to the Breakfast. I also use the Mr Men concept to prepare people for the significant challenges of working with people in virtual teams, especially when you have not met them in person. In a discussion later in the conference I asked a small group if they were able to meet other members of virtual teams to get an impression of their building layout and facilities. All said that they were, but on further questioning this only applied to people working in their organisation even though all of them took part in virtual teams on a frequent basis where people from outside of the organisation were involved.

This is especially important in digital workplaces where there will be a constant requirement to work with suppliers and customers. In my experience virtual teams differ in almost every respect from table teams – a term I have coined to describe teams gathered around the same table. This is not just with regard to meeting management but in the leadership skills required for virtual teams. Simple things can make a big difference. Talking to one delegate they mentioned a challenge about getting their East Coast and West Coast US teams working better together in virtual team meetings. I asked if the West Coast team ever had a chance to fix the meeting time even if it was towards the end of the day in San Francisco and therefore in the evening in Boston. All too often meeting times are chosen to suit corporate HQ, not participants in other countries.

I would recommend that developing a structured training programme for virtual team participation and management should be a priority for 2015. You can download a briefing to virtual teams from the Resources section of this site or take a look at what I regard as ten critical success factors in virtual team management. If you would like me to run my virtual team training course in house or develop a certification programme for your organisation please let me know.

Martin White