Working With Virtual Teams

by Joseph_Phillips on January 15, 2013

For some project managers a virtual team means that the team “virtually works.” For the rest of us, it means that the project team is remote rather than located locally.

Regardless of the team’s locale, the project manager can attempt to facilitate team development. Team development is a natural process that project teams cycle through as they learn about one another and accept their positions and roles within the project team. Technically, there are four stages of team development:

  • Forming: The project team is coming together for the first time and pleasantries are offered. Um, obviously if the project team has worked together in the past forming doesn’t take too long.
  • Storming: Ooh – things are heating up. People on the team are exerting their influence, solidifying their positions, and trying to stake their leadership position within the project. This leadership can be for good or for bad.
  • Norming: Alright, things have settled down and the project team has accepted their roles as leaders or followers.
  • Performing: Here’s the good part – the project team has accepted their roles and they’re now focusing on completing the project work.

As a project manager you can usher the team development stages along through team building activities, such as rope courses or other outings that focus on team development. For smaller projects activities within the project can serve as team building exercises – consider the creation of the WBS, the risk assessment processes, and project planning. You also have five perceived powers that you can assert over the project team:

  • Expert – The project team sees you, the project manager, as an expert in the technology or discipline the project focuses on. Makes sense, right? It’s easier to trust and follow someone when they know what the heck they’re talking about.
  • Reward – The project team sees you as someone who can reward them for their work. Everyone’s happy when they know the project manager can give bonuses, good reviews, and other rewards. Of course, this power only is valid when the project manager really can reward the project team.
  • Coercive – The project team sees you as someone who can punish them if they don’t do their work on time and as expected. Just a minute Snidely Whiplash – you don’t need to twirl your handlebar moustache and don a top hat to use this power. Coercive power can be useful when project team members don’t respond to project incentives – it’s the carrot or the stick mentality.
  • Formal – The project team sees you a figure head without any real power. This may happen initially when the project team doesn’t know the project manager. This weak power may also be known as positional power.
  • Referent – The project team sees you as someone acting on someone else’s behalf. For example, you say, “Team we’re doing it this way because Marcy the CEO put me in charge.” This works especially well when you actually have a CEO named Marcy. Referent can also mean that you and project team members have worked together before and you have an established relationship with the project team.

The goal of team development is that projects will be completed more accurately if the project team feels obligated and responsible to one another to do the work correctly and with a common cause. Teams that get along with one another will not only help the project manager keep her sanity, they will help the project deliverables, processes, execution, and project control.

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