Virtual group becoming a collaborative and successful team

Collaboration is significantly more challenging when distance separates team members from one another. How can we make members of virtual teams truly engaged towards a common goal? How to overcome hurdles related to distance and cultural differences? Can members collaborate together for the sake of bringing superior performance and innovative solutions to customers? These are some of the questions frequently raised by leaders of distributed teams.

The situation

Over a fifteen-year span, this organization experienced a huge growth; going from 15,000 to 50,000 employees; from being local to international located in 20 countries around the world. Thanks to recent acquisitions, the top team was now composed of 14 members coming from different corporate cultures and located in 8 different countries. The team leader was determined to make this scattered group of people into a true and strong team. With his ever increasing responsibilities, he needed to have a stronger engaged team, much more capable to share with him, not all leadership responsibilities but certainly some of them.

Here what I have done with this client in order to achieve his ambition.

  • Assessment of the group collaborative dynamics, strengths, and practices:
    • Group Audit using the © Shared Leadership Maturity Index tool
    • Observation of the group during their quarterly face-to-face meetings and weekly audio-conference meetings.
    • Individual Interviews
  • Debriefing first with the team leader, partnering with him to make a case for change and transformation and engage the entire team
  • Strategy development with the group; joint identification of collective KPI to achieve
  • Action learning and implementation:
    • Workshops and coaching sessions on three collective skills for collaboration and shared leadership: T learning; Mastering Dialogue; Clarifying collective accountability and interdependency.
    • Individual accompaniment and leadership coaching for select team members.
    • Implementation of collaborative tools and practices. Ex. Job aids for conducting collaborative and effective meetings; steps for having strategic conversations; discipline and tools for executing on decisions and following ups; key questions and actions for understanding every member’s specific business challenges and opportunities, etc.
  • The group first acknowledged together that in order to increase performance, agility, and develop innovative solutions they needed to improve collaboration. This was a first step into developing a sense of being a team, of being in it together. Consequently it brought a stronger engagement
  • Off-site workshops allowed the group to identify the key elements of a shared vision and of what was needed to get there.
  • Three team committees met over a period of 3 to 6 months to define more concretely: the shared vision, the organizational structure; the human resources challenges and the necessary improvements in terms of retention and competency profiles. Action plans followed. Follow-ups are now done at every meeting.
  • Formerly passive members have become active contributors, much more involved and ready to take initiatives.
  • Thanks to the increased sharing of responsibilities and collaboration, the team leader was able to invest more attention and time into other strategic issues.
  • A regional business leader recognized the team’s improved performance and collaboration.
  • Outside of formal meetings and contrary to the past, there are regular initiatives taken by various members to reach out to team colleagues and this, for different matters such as for examples: business issues, customer service, handling difficult employees, etc.
  • Between team members, there is an increased capacity to openly address and discuss issues rather than ignoring them.
  • Work in progress: Whatever the team purpose and issues, collaboration is a work in progress that requires attention and discipline. Thanks to a shared vision, a mutual sense of accountability, the collective change in leadership paradigm and more effective practices, the team leader can rely more all members to be more powerful contributors.

Meetings and audio-conferences were held every two weeks and the group met physically two or three times per year.

With the team leader’s responsibilities constantly increasing, they couldn’t direct everything from a distance. The members of their team had to optimise their own leadership and collaboration. This helped face the challenges of competition and performance, reduce costs, and increase profit in one of the most competitive markets. They were responsible for more initiatives and more innovation. However, something was missing because timidity and lack of collaborative initiative were prevalent.