Four Steps to Creating Community in Virtual Teams

virtual teams

Humans crave community.  In fact, our survival depends on it.  It’s true in our personal lives and it’s true at work, too.

Community does not necessarily develop as fluidly and naturally when managing virtual teams as when managing collocated teams. Purposefully cultivating a sense of community is often overlooked when managing and supervising virtual teams.

However, if you don’t create a vibrant community for virtual employees to belong to, they will find their own community. Again, it is part of our very fabric to feel a part of something. So if virtual team members are not finding community in the workplace ether, they might find it on social media through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.  Or they might find it in their actual physical community by walking the dog, hanging out with neighbors during work hours, or spending time in local coffee shops and other haunts . . . not working. Or they may fall back on other communities that they already belong to like extended family and friends.

To create a virtual team that truly embodies community (that is commitment to one another, ability to be vulnerable, and a strong desire to see the team succeed) requires conscious, deliberate action.

Here are four steps to create community in virtual teams:

1. Get together in person early and often.

Advocate tirelessly for a budget to bring team members together early and often. Although the tools for communicating and collaborating virtually have improved dramatically over the last decade, there is still no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Team members will build trust more swiftly, have a greater sense of comfort with one another and come to rely on each other the more opportunities they have to spend time together in the same room.

2. Get to know team members.

Into every team interaction, build opportunities for team members to get to know one another better.  Whether it is a simple round-robin roll call where you ask what people ate for breakfast or where they’d go on vacation if they had an unlimited budget, create opportunities for them to share small, relatively low-risk information about themselves.  As they build social cohesion, the team will become stronger and work together better.

3. Create spaces and places for informal interaction.

Whether it be through an enterprise wide tool like Yammer, Honey or Slack, or using a public platform like a private group on Facebook, team members need a place to gather, exchange ideas and be social. Consciously create the places and spaces for your virtual team members to hang out and communicate virtually.  And then get yourself there and model the behavior you’d like to see.

4. Regularly communicate the story of the team

While it might seem commonplace to you, your team members need to hear the story of their team regularly and told with conviction.  Include why it was formed, what it’s goals are and how it fits into the mission of the broader organization. When team members feel like their team is by design rather than by accident and fulfilling a critical role in the organization, they will be more likely to be committed and engaged.

What are your favorite techniques for creating community in your virtual team?

Share your ideas in the comments below.

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    LeadershipLesson6

    Author’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.

     

    Approximately two-thirds of the way up to the summit, the path flattened and the seven-mile hike was easy for a stretch. Easier than it had been in a long time.

    My mind, alternating between awe-struck by the beauty of the mountain and distracted by the need to get my son to the airport in just a few short hours, almost missed it.

    It was my body that pointed it out.

    A lighter step.

    A deeper breath.

    A chance to look up.

    My pulse slowed, my breathing got easier, and I began to look out to the stunning views of a neighboring mountain range.

    The shift in my body triggered a shift in my mind.

    And then I realized: I almost forgot to enjoy the easy part.

    That’s what it’s like for leaders, too. We run the risk of failing to enjoy the easy parts when we are in the midst of challenging and difficult work.

    It’s easy to miss the easy parts. We get so caught up and consumed with the trials, tribulations and trauma (and drama!) of our journey that we fail to appreciate and enjoy the stress-free, easy parts.

    The easy parts are when our work feels more like play than work.  We can relax a bit and sink into the terrain more, appreciating the moment and the fluidity with which things are unfolding.

    It’s in those moments that the sweetness of leadership is felt.

    Oh sure, satisfaction is also felt in the victory of a hard fought battle for market share or the race to launch a new product or service. But that’s different. Those aren’t the easy parts.

    The easy parts are when the slope of the path underfoot evens out and the going is good.

    The easy parts are sweet because we get a chance to look up. And in that moment when we pull our head up, we invariably see things we hadn’t seen before: the opportunity to thank a colleague for their help, a chance encounter with someone in our network, or merely the possibility of catching our breath before the next leg of the journey.

    As you push forward, leading your team or yourself to the next milestone, don’t forget to enjoy the easy parts.

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    leadership lesson 4

    Author’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about the leadership lessons learned while hiking Usery Mountain with my 17-year-old son.

    There are parts of the trail that are steep, where you barely have a toe-hold grip. Your back is up against the cliff wall and speed (see Lesson #3) is not an option. Rather, you must progress methodically and carefully and be confident in your footing.

    The only help available to you is some prickly shrubs, which frankly, hurt more than they help.

    Every step you take feels risky and you begin to wonder what crazy idea put you up on this mountain to begin with. And then you stop that train of thought. Abruptly. Because it’s not helping.

    Instead, you take a breath and find purchase on the mountain. Each step begins tentatively as you ease into it, then becomes confident as you feel supported by the mountain, albeit tenuously supported.

    You suddenly realize . . . you will probably not crash to your death.

    Thousands upon thousands of people have traveled this rugged and rocky path before you. The valley below your current narrow passage is not littered with their bodies.

    No, you will probably not crash to your death.

    As it is on the mountain, it is in leadership.

    As a leader, you take risks. You venture out on the narrow passageway with your back up against the wall. And more often than not, things work out. You score a new client. The acquisition is a success. The unconventional employee you hire thrives.

    Occasionally, however, they don’t work out so well. And do you crash to your death? No. Hardly.

    What happens then? You learn from it. Hard lessons sometimes. You might even call them failures. And that’s a good thing these days. Failure is in vogue. It’s about time!

    The faster you learn from your mishaps, the less likely they are to happen again. And the more transparent you are about your mistakes, the less likely they are to repeat within your organization.

    And when things do work out well after you’ve had your back up against the wall and your footing has been unsteady?

    The rewards are tremendous.

    Sure the accolades from others are welcome, but the real reward comes from inside. When you look back across the narrow path you traveled, with all its inherent risk and potential peril, and truly acknowledge that you made it to the other side (sometimes unscathed), that’s where the deep reward is.

    What are you waiting for?

    You will probably not crash to your death.

    Go take that risk!

     

    Catch the full series of blog posts of my Lessons on Leadership from the Side of a Mountain.

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    leadership lesson 3

    When you think of doing something safely, images of slow, methodical, calculated action typically surface.

    Safety came in a different form for me on parts of my hike the Pass Mountain Trail on Usery Mountain.

    As I ascended the mountain, it was clear where the sporadic rains had washed away the hiking trail. In some such narrow parts of the trail, the ground crumbled beneath my feet making a hasty decent down the back side of the mountain feel like a near certainty.

    In those places, safety came as speed. Faster was safer, contrary to our typical notions of safety.

    It’s not so different at work.

    You might be racing to be first to market with a new product or service, where safety comes in market share.

    You might be racing to find a new job when something goes terribly awry with your current organization.

    You might be racing to leave a confrontational meeting or a threatening encounter with a coworker to put a safe distance between you and your colleague.

    Speed can make all the difference between feeling like we are in danger and feeling safe.

    Our sympathetic nervous system (the fancy name for our fight or flight response) governs our desire to ditch a situation and look for higher ground (or lower ground when on a mountain!). As part of the autonomic nervous system, our fight or flight response is largely automatic.

    It’s in our DNA to want to stay safe.

    Our bodies and minds have one overarching goal, whether in the board room or on the mountain: survival.

    Only through conditioning the mind and the body to be comfortable with discomfort, to consciously bring about a calm state of being, can we face dangerous situations constructively.

    When we have a handle on our discomfort and can achieve calmness in the throes of discomfort, we can use that discomfort as an important guiding force in our lives, rather than having it rule our lives.

    Leaders need to have self-knowledge and maturity to assess situations quickly and accurately and determine whether the best course ahead is slow, methodical action or rapid, swift action.  Strong leaders can still their fears and quiet their internal dialogue. From that place of stillness, they can see not only market conditions, employee engagement and confrontational colleagues, they can also see beyond market conditions, employee engagement and confrontational colleagues.

    And it will become clear to them whether to speed up or slow down.

    Summoning the calm that comes from years of yoga, meditation and other mind-body practices, I was able to assess the situation as the ground crumbled beneath me.

    On that part of the mountain, faster was definitely safer.

     

    Catch the full series of blog posts of my Lessons on Leadership from the Side of a Mountain.

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    Usery Mountain #1

    Not long ago my 17-year-old son and I went on a hike on Usery Mountain just north of Mesa, Arizona. We took on the Pass Mountain Trail, a seven-mile loop around the mountain which summits about two thirds of the way along the trail.

    It wasn’t a particularly arduous climb but the intensity was elevated for us because we were pressed for time: he was catching a flight back home to Minneapolis in just a few hours. We had less time to do the hike than we would have liked.  As I raced across the mountain, numerous leadership lessons surfaced.

    In the coming weeks I will document twenty of them.  With titles like “You will probably not crash to your death” and “Sometimes it is best not to look down” and “Appreciate occasional and unexpected lushness,” I share the leadership lessons that showed up for me on the mountain.

    These leadership lessons will help you communicate and lead more effectively whether you lead from the board room or the lunch room.

     

    Leadership Lesson #1:

    Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will end together.

    My son Andrew and I started the hike together.  This was before he told me that his spirit animal was a mountain goat. I didn’t know he had a spirit animal. I didn’t even know he was that, well, spiritual.

    We weren’t three minutes from the trail head when he and his long, lean legs began to outpace me. Considerably.

    For the next 30 minutes, I struggled to keep up. At 6’1” he’s got a solid seven inches on me and it’s mostly in his legs. He’s also got minus 29 years on me.  And while I like to think I’m in shape, this boy runs cross country, cross country skis, and could skip lithely over the rugged terrain in a way I could never do. Not even at his age.

    Those 30 minutes were pure agony.

    I huffed.

    I puffed.

    I willed him to slow down.

    I worried about him.

    I worried about me.

    I tried so hard to keep up.

    I tried even harder not to be mad at him.

    As I saw him round a corner at least a half mile ahead of me, his neon yellow tank top a stark contrast to the greys, beiges and soft greens of the desert terrain, I realized he wasn’t waiting for me to catch up. Loping along at a comfortable pace for his long legs, he didn’t appear concerned with me at all.

    In that moment it hit me: We could both enjoy this hike (which I hadn’t been up until this point!) while being on the mountain simultaneously, each at a pace that suited us individually.

    After this mountainous realization (pun so very much intended), I relaxed my pace and found my groove. I started to enjoy myself and take in my surroundings. And there, in that moment, the first leadership lesson appeared: Just because you start together doesn’t mean you will finish together . . . or should even keep the same pace.

    Whether it is a freshman year roommate, grad school colleague, or someone who started with your current employer on the same day as you, that’s all it means: You started together. It doesn’t mean you are going to keep pace and it certainly doesn’t mean you are going to end together.

    Letting go of feeling that we had to stay together and that I was supposed to keep up (or that he was supposed to wait up) was liberating.

    I let go of comparison.

    I let go of self-flagellation (at least about the hike).

    I let go of judgement.

    And I began to enjoy the hike.

     

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    keyboard

     

    I’m breaking up with email.

    I’m in an all-out effort to be more productive and focused. As such, I’m experimenting with various productivity techniques. This week, I’m reducing my dependency on email as a distraction and a vice. It’s harder than I thought. Way. Harder.

    I’ve long touted the benefits of checking email two or three times per day when teaching emerging leaders how to be more strategically effective. And just between you and me, I thought I practiced this myself.  Until I got real with myself this week and actually turned email off – closed the application, the webmail version and turned off the “new mail” chime on my smartphone.  Then the shizzle got real.

    Take this morning for example: I’m in my office, prepping for a speech I’m giving on Friday. I’m combing through data from interview research to find the most compelling stories to support the points I’m making. As soon as I bump up against a challenge, like not easily finding a story that illustrates my point, I reach for email.

    Or as soon as I come to a natural transition point, I reach for email. I just completed one of the sections of the speech.  I have only one section to go (plus the conclusion), and what do I do? I reach for effing email. Sheesh!!

    I’ve often spoken about how email is as addictive as cocaine, sugar and Facebook. Somehow, I thought I was immune. I think we all do.  We think that we are stronger than that. We, certainly, don’t succumb to the dopamine rush that the brain produces when we get a new email.  But alas, we do. Totally.

    From an addiction standpoint, email has the perfect combination of elements:

    • It’s infrequent. You never know exactly when one is coming. Which makes it so much more exciting when you get one!
    • It’s personal. Even if it is a mailing list you are subscribed to, it’s most often addressed to you personally.
    • It’s the perfect procrastination tool. It feels like work. Like important work.

    And so, on this morning, as the minutes tick down until noon, when I can next check my email (one hour, fourteen minutes to go), I reach for my blog instead, hoping for a hit of dopamine somewhere down the line, when a reader comments on the posting.

    Perhaps blogging will become my next vice.

    And, if you’ve sent me an email this morning . . .

    expect a response at either noon or 4:00 pm.

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    fitness_assessment

    I’m starting to work with a fitness trainer.  This morning I did a comprehensive fitness assessment with my trainer and I gave it my ALL. I left nothing in me. Zero. Zilch. Nada.  I poured it all onto the mat, the treadmill, the weights.  At the end, I was exhausted and wobbly. And it felt terrific.

    I was furnished with an 11 page report that shows that, indeed, I performed to the very best of my ability. The pages confirm what I feel in my body: exhaustion and pride in a job well done.

    Here are five reasons to give it your all, but only sometimes.

    1. You show yourself (and others) what you are capable of. Giving it your all is a proving ground. Whether it is a performance, a workout, a sales record, a project well managed or something else, you will show what you’re made of when you put it all on the line.
    1. You can do more than you thought you could. You will surprise yourself. I certainly didn’t know I had 15 consecutive, well-paced push-ups (with excellent form, no less!) in me. I scored above average for women of my age on that section. Who knew! I surprised myself and you will too.
    1. In a word: Accomplishment. You will feel proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished. Success breeds success. There is nothing like laying it all out on the pavement and feeling satisfied with a job well done to make you feel like getting up and doing it all over again – at some point in the future.
    1. Knowing that you used all of your gifts and talents. You will feel gratified knowing that you’ve put your gifts and talents to your best use. As Wayne Dyer says, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” When you give it your all, you know with complete certainty that you will not die with your music still in you. You are making the best music you possibly can.
    1. Create a solid foundation for the next time. Some call it a benchmark, others a milestone. Whatever you call it, it marks where you’ve been and what you could do when you were there. Down the road a stretch, when you’ve learned more and built more muscle (figurative or literal), you can give it your all again – and your all will be even more/bigger/faster than it is today. Without giving it your all today, you won’t be able to accurately measure your progress tomorrow.

    So go out there and give it your all. But only sometimes.

    Why only sometimes?

    In a word: burnout. It is not sustainable to work at that pace, that intensity, that level of performance for very long. Your body and mind need to recharge and refuel.  Whether I’m on the mat in the gym or on the stage speaking at a conference, I want to give it my ALL in that moment, to create something special, to raise the bar as high as it will go for an hour. It’s not sustainable to perform at that level all the time. Nor would any moments feel special.

    I want to give it my all and use all of my gifts and talents on the stage so I feel just as spent after presenting to an audience as I do after a hard core fitness assessment. Nothing left in me.

    And then?  A tall drink of water and a nap.

    When you do give it your all?

    Leave your response in the comments below.

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