There’s a world of difference between just working together well and truly collaborating with each other.  Achieving perfect collaboration is tricky in any environment, but even more so in a virtual workplace.  Getting teams to work together is essential for bringing in projects on time, under budget and of high standard.  But going beyond that and getting teams to collaborate is when the real magic happens.  If your virtual meetings are an energy sink rather than energy source then it’s a strong signal that your collaboration needs attention.  Mastery in collaboration evolves by having the courage to experiment with new practices and by developing a deeper mastery of yourself and insight into others.

Tips to help teams collaborate successfully

Train for collaboration

Any group can improve their collaboration with commitment and persistence and a clearly defined framework within which to improve.  At RISE Beyond we provide that clearly defined framework for our clients and in 2016 have had great success in teaching various collaboration practices through the use of our  App.  Key features of the RISE App include:

  • Meetings tools and processes
  • Problem solving practices
  • Checklists for managing effective meetings
  • Guidance around finding the right process
  • Insight into the RISE 7 Habits and Practices

Co-create team rules and norms

It is so important for virtual collaborative teams to understand and agree upon standards and expectations for communication, decision-making, conflict resolution and meeting protocol.  Equally important is the clarification of team goals and priorities as well as each individual’s responsibilities, roles and accountability.

Trust Builders

Trust is the foundation for any successful collaboration.  Trust usually grows out of personal interactions and mutual work or personal experiences.  A trust builder helps to get people fully present as well as supporting the development of trust within a group.  It is always helpful to take a few minutes at the beginning or end of a meeting for ‘small talk’, so that participants can build or deepen personal relationships. Example trust-builder questions could include:

  • Describe a time in your life when you were very embarrassed.
  • Which of your senses do you value the most and why?
  • Describe a time in your life when you were truly afraid.
  • What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Best practices when collaborating virtually

We are in a phase of rapid growth of online collaboration tools.  RISE work with clients is 70% virtual.

Technology

All participants must take responsibility for having access to good internet, a headset and a location with low background noise.

Be Seen

Video-conference is better than audio.  65% of our learning style is visual, 30% auditory and 5% kinesthetic.  Put simply, using video-conferencing, we feel more connected and you are much more likely to maintain concentration.

Keep It Short

Do not hold a group video conference for more than 2 hours.  Always have a 5 minute mid-point break.  This will ensure people don’t lost focus and stay connected.

Level the Playing Field

Try to use one computer per participant.  The energy of a group of people in a room can make participants who are joining virtually feel disconnected.

Be On Time

When people are late or don’t show up, stress grows fast in the virtual environment.  Be on time and when there are inevitable delays, be sure to let people know.

Facilitator

Always have a pre-agreed facilitator who shares the agenda with the group.

Speak in Turn & Frequent invitation to speak

Ask each person to comment on an issue in turn and let them know the order when you start an agenda item.  Ensure the facilitator invites each person regularly into the conversation; knowing you will be called upon helps you keep your focus on the discussion.

Use the Right Tools

Experiment with tools to support your collaboration during the video-conference.  For example, the whiteboard functionality within WebEx can be useful.

End of Meeting Process Review

This is easy and will quickly improve the quality of your collaboration.  At the end of a meeting, ask each person to share their reflections on the meeting process.  What worked well and why?  Or if something did not work, why?

When it comes to bonding virtual teams, there’s no substitution for getting people together. Even if it’s just for one initial face-to-face meeting, the very fact that you’ve given people the chance to get “up close and personal,” goes a long way to sustaining a team spirit and increasing productivity when everyone goes back to their respective workplaces.