Once upon a time, team members had to be located together, usually in the same place. The Internet changed everything. Collaborators and companies all over the world fundamentally shifted the ways they work and thrived as they spanned distance and time with virtual teams.
Church leaders can also benefit from virtually connected teams by leading more effectively and saving valuable time for members.
What are virtual teams?
Good virtual teams include individuals who understand the benefits of project management. They share project goals and objectives and work together from dispersed geographic locations through telecommunications. Interaction can be live or asynchronous (not occurring at the same time).
Effectively using mediated communication such as the Internet requires a different communication skill set. Before we get to the best ways to set up and manage your group virtually, consider a few reasons you might want to experiment more with this model.
Advantages of working virtually
1. Overcome time restrictions. You probably don't know many church leaders with too much time on their hands. We all want more hours in the day. You probably know someone who struggles to attend physical meetings but could answer a video call.
2. Overcome geographic barriers. You don't have to run a multi-site church in order for distance to be challenging. It can be tough to make even a 20- to 30-minute drive to a meeting site. What about individuals who need child care for every meeting? Working virtually can be a stress-relieving money saver.
3. Be culturally relevant. Technology is only increasing, so we do well to learn the tools. Students use virtual groups throughout their educational careers and more people than ever work remotely. Virtual interaction is second nature to future leaders.
4. Encourage more voices to be heard. In a virtual meeting, perceptions about rank and differences often decrease. People who are shy or intimidated in face-to-face conversation are often more comfortable voicing their opinions in computer-mediated interaction. We are all the same size on computer monitors.
Potential challenges for virtual teams
To establish a collaborative climate in any medium, group members need to trust and support one another. This is sometimes difficult. Be realistic about obstacles to establishing an ideal group dynamic. Here are some potential drawbacks in virtual interaction.
- It is harder to pick up on body language or other nonverbal cues.
- Tone is harder to read in electronically written communication.
- Someone may not take the time to express something in writing that they would state quickly in a face-to-face setting.
- It can take longer to reach consensus in virtual groups (although more deliberation may be a good thing).
- Some people will struggle to work virtually. Individual members need a level of self-sufficiency and independence.
How to manage a virtual team
Successful leaders set clear goals and make communication an integral part of the church's mission. Here are ways to do both in a virtual setting.
- Choose the right technology to foster communication. Virtual teams can work through live conference calls or video calls as well as written communication such as emails, texting and social media. Cloud-based file-sharing apps such as Dropbox are also great. In our next issue we'll cover various tools available to help run virtual teams.
- Establish ground rules. For example, remind everyone to have a good environment free of distractions and noises. Let people know to join quietly if they call in after a meeting has begun.
- Establish a rhythm. Everyone should prepare early with time to set up their tech and get settled. Create a consistent pattern to keep everything moving forward consistently.
- Remind everyone that they're members of a team. Make sure everyone knows the schedule and the deliverables. Show team members how their tasks fit into the larger goal. What do other team members need and why?
- Look for opportunities to socialize. Get the team together at times for work or play.
If you're not using the Internet to communicate with your team, try it. You might find unexpected value like saving resources or seeing a typically passive contributor emerge.
If you already use virtual communication with your team, which new ideas might you try? What works or doesn't work? Comment to let us know.
Be sure to check our next issue for a full article on tools for setting up and managing virtual teams.