Many people today must work together and cooperate as a team while separated geographically. With accelerated advances in communications and travel, more and more people are colleagues from a distance.
Barbara Pate Glacel, co-author of “Light Bulbs for Leaders: A Guide Book for Team Learning,” developed the following tips for succeeding in long-distance teamwork:
- Find time early on in the process to get together face-to-face.
- Learn something personal about each member of the team so you can exchange a minimum of small talk when you begin an interaction.
- Post pictures of the teammates near your computer screen or next to the telephone so you can envision them when you are interacting.
- Be aware team members have other priorities and obligations you may be interrupting. Since you cannot see them, you do not know what their activities are at any given moment.
- Use frequent process checks to assess how the relationship is doing and how the work is progressing.
- Communicate often, even if nothing in your work together is pressing.
- When something seems amiss, rely on more personal communication rather than less. In other words, solve the problem with face-to-face interaction if possible. If not, work through the options in this order: video teleconference, telephone conference, e-mail, fax, and letter.
- When using e-mail or team software, be attuned to heightened emotion. If you feel frustrated or angry at the communication, take a time-out before sending an e-mail response.
- Each team member must share responsibility to get the team on track if anything else is getting in the way of meeting goals.
Define a team as a group of people who must work with each other to accomplish a mission: “My contention is that long distance teams exist only with great difficulty, if at all,” Glacel said. “I believe that a firm foundation of in-person, face-to-face relationship-building is an essential prerequisite for teaming.” She asserted, “I am convinced that nothing beats face-to-face communication.”
How to Make Teams Work
1. Realize there’s a team within each organization struggling to be born.
2. Close your mouth and open your ears to communicate. Talking is easy. But communicating, which involves really listening, is hard.
3. Keep in mind there is good news about conflicts — 20 percent of the employees perpetuate 80 percent of the workplace conflicts. Work to root out the troublemakers.
4. Fight “rut-itis.” It’s easy to get comfortable. When routine promotes an atmosphere of robots, then an organization has a problem.
5. Understand that leadership can be shared. A team of leaders? It’s a concept whose time has come.