Develop a Plan to Institute Virtual Teams

By Tara Powers

If you agree that virtual teams are a good fit for your company, the next step is to develop your plan. High functioning virtual teams don’t happen by accident. They happen because the organization and leader put in the time and effort to build a solid foundation for virtual team success. This includes things like team purpose and goals, role clarity for team members, a transition plan for those co-located employees moving to a virtual team as well as overall communication recommendation to the rest of the company. Here I guide you through creating a strong foundation for your virtual team that includes all of these key strategies.

Define purpose and goals

Like any well-planned business initiative, establishing and communicating clarity of purpose and goals for your virtual team is imperative for success. Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What do you want this team to accomplish?
  • What is the scope of work this team will be responsible for?
  • How will you measure team success and evaluate individual performance?
  • What other teams are impacted by the work?
  • Who are strategic stakeholders in the company that need to work closely with this team?
  • How does this team add value to the business?
  • How does this team positively impact the organization’s strategic goals?
  • How is this team moving the company in the direction of its vision?
  • How will the team be structured? (100 percent virtual? 50/50?)
  • Why is the team structured this way?
  • Why is using remote workers the best business decision for this project or team?
  • Is this team a short-term or long-term strategy for the business?

Clearly defining the high-level purpose and goals for your virtual team can help you figure out the roles on the team you need to fill and how you’ll communicate the game plan for the team to others in your company.

Figure out the roles to fill

Getting crystal clear about the skills you need on your virtual team and what roles are interdependent and why is the first step to creating clarity around goals, workflow, hiring strategies, and more. With time and distance separating virtual team members, having the right roles established is even more important to reduce ambiguity among team members regarding who does what. It’s difficult to manage interdependent tasks when team members are in different time zones and countries so the more clarity around roles, goals, and expectations for each role the better.

Build a mind map

A great way to determine the roles you need to fill on a virtual team is to use a mind map to decide what skills you need to accomplish your goals. A mind map represents a visual thinking tool that helps you map out your thoughts using words, phrases, or ideas, which can help you to make associations in the brain that spark further development of a goal or idea.

The figure shows a simple mind map that considers what’s needed to support a company goal of being known for customer service excellence. Here are the steps to build your own:

virtual-teams-mind-map
A mind map.

1. Create a central idea or goal.

This is the starting point of your mind map and represents the topic or goals that you’re going to explore. Put this in the center of your page.

2. Add arteries or branches to your mind map.

These branches represent your main themes that support your central idea or goal. You can expand these main themes by adding more branches off each main theme.

3. Include keywords.

Keywords along your branches can help you to chunk information into core topics or themes and assist you in remembering a larger quantity of information.

I use this mind map to help my client home in on key focus areas to accomplish their goal of being known for customer service excellence. As a result, it shows you that a small virtual team of three people with key behaviors and skills will work well to handle all online customer service inquiries.

Perform a skill gap analysis

After you’re clear on the skills needed for your virtual team, you need to perform a simple skill gap analysis to see if you have those skills internally or need to hire by following these four steps:

1. Identify what skills are needed.

Using your mind map, list all the skills needed on the virtual team. You can break this list down by key responsibilities, tasks, or functions. I recommend prioritizing how important each skill is to the team and what level of expertise in using the skill is required (high, medium, low).

2. Evaluate current team members.

Measure the level of skill you currently have available in your talent pool of employees. You can do this through interviews, surveys, assessments, or prior performance reviews. The following figure shows an example of a nine-box matrix to help measure current employee potential to fill roles on your virtual team. I recommend that you take into account other important behaviors such as coachability, attitude, and growth potential.

3. Determine gaps.

Compare the skills needed on your virtual team and the skills you have available with your current workforce. You can do so with a skill assessment test or simple survey tool that assesses the strengths of your workforce. You can collect data from management and current employees. By using these tools, you can easily and quickly identify obvious gaps.

4. Develop or hire skills needed.

Create your plan of action — either develop the skills needed with the employees you already have or hire in new skills for your virtual team.

virtual-teams-matrix
A nine-box matrix.

For each role on your virtual team, additional skills and experience may be necessary for the job including technology proficiency. Get more granular in terms of your employees’ day-to-day responsibilities and tasks to ensure you don’t have job roles on a team overlapping one another.

Communicate about virtual team adoption

In addition, getting people and leaders in your organization to champion virtual teams is imperative. Incorporating virtual workers can be a shift in mindset for people. Feelings of jealously and inequity can arise from those employees who can’t work from home. Make sure that you’re clear on how to communicate this new virtual team adoption in your company.

Some obvious terms you can include in your communication plan to support why virtual teams are a good idea for your business are agile, faster to deliver, quicker resolution, speed to market, access to expertise, and expansion into new markets to name a few. Think about how a virtual workforce is in alignment with your values and goals and articulate how you’ll focus on hiring for cultural fit just as much as you will for skill.

Communicate in a way that will set people’s minds at ease — talk about your vision for the team and what’s possible. Remember that a powerful vision gets powerful results.

Don’t shy away from mentioning the fact that introducing virtual teams to your business will require change. The way people communicate, collaborate, and have influence will certainly require a paradigm shift. Highlight how you’ll support the transformation through training, coaching, and technology. Address people’s fears and allow them to speak up and be heard. The more weigh-in you encourage from employees, the more buy-in you’ll have long term.

Using virtual teams will make you a more dynamic, diverse organization that is poised to serve your customers better than ever before. When communicating this significant shift to your employees, you really need to sell it. Not only are you evolving your business but you’re also evolving mindsets.