Increasingly, important work is being done in virtual teams which do not have the opportunity to meet in person. There are several factors driving this trend:
1. More companies are operating in multiple countries, making it harder for people to meet in person, particularly in today’s cost-conscious environment
2. More companies are allowing employees to work from home, in some cases eliminating fixed offices in favor of home offices.
3. As part of diversity programs, more companies are encouraging women with children to work from home a substantial percentage of the time.
4. More work is being done on weekends and in the evenings when in-person meetings are not practical.
When important projects are assigned to virtual teams, it’s important to ensure that the work will be completed as effectively as if the team met in person. This means ensuring that creativity and innovation take place, despite the lack of collective physical presence.
A recent HBR blog piece, To Make Virtual Teams Succeed, Pick the Right Players, recognizes this challenge and makes several suggestions:
- Keeping the team small
- Adding meaningful structure to team meetings
- Picking people who can work well virtually
All of these suggestions make sense. The question is, how do you pick the right people to work in virtual teams. We believe that use of assessments is the best approach and that two levels of assessments are appropriate:
- Assessing individuals for the characteristics supporting strong team contributions.
- Assessing all potential team members who have these characteristics for the strengths of their potential relationships.
Strong Team Characteristics
For this portion of the assessment, we suggest using the Personality Research Form E, which reveals individuals’ internal motivators. Those individuals who are motivated by achievement, order, change, endurance and social recognition are likely to be strong candidates for virtual teams. In contrast, those who prefer close personal contacts, working alone, being nurtured and acting aggressively are less likely to fit well on a virtual team. As a prelude to the assessment process, it’s also important, using the PRF, to understand the the successful characteristics of virtual team members based on your company’s experience. Then, the use of the PRF, weighted to your company’s past experience, will provide a strong barometer for determining who the strong candidates are for virtual team projects.
For this portion of the assessment, the clear choice is the Four Groups 4G instrument which will clearly show the expected relationship strengths among prospective team members. Relationship strength is an important predictor of team effectiveness in all situations. In the case of virtual teams, it is even more critical that the team members have strong relationships because they will not get the face time to work on their relationships. Using Four Groups 4G, you will be able to see the strength of each prospective team member’s relationship with each other prospective team member. Individuals with the strongest relationships can be expected to spend at most 15% of their time working out their relationship. Those with the weakest relationships will spend up to 50% of their time on relationship issues instead of completing important work.
We can’t stress how important it is to use assessments in assigning virtual team members. In today’s world, where most important work is done by teams of knowledge workers, selecting these teams can make the difference between success and failure. It’s also not so easy to see when the failures happen. How can you tell what a team could have done when the result of their work looks OK? You can’t. So use assessments to assemble winning teams!