Having a team of people working together from different parts of the country (or world) sounds like a great idea because you open your options for hiring top talent at a reasonable cost. However, often, virtual teams that are geographically disbursed struggle to achieve greatness, or even basic effectiveness that you would expect from a co-located team.
How can you make sure that your virtual team is providing the return on investment that you anticipated?
There are many ways to measure the performance of a team, using various metrics such as productivity, velocity, lead time, etc. With a little effort and the right tool, you can set up these metrics to monitor how things are going. However, metrics are often a double-edged sword; numbers can be “gamed” by the team if they feel that they are pressured to produce good metrics, which is usually not the end goal.
So, what can we do to find out how well the virtual team is working together? Here are a few questions that may work for you.
Question 1 – Does the Team Enjoy Working Together?
This may be a subjective thing, and it will likely be difficult to quantify compared to metrics, but a high-performing team show certain characteristics and behavior that will show you how it is functioning. How can you tell if the virtual team genuinely enjoys solving problems? Observe how they communicate. Do they back each other up proactively? Do they expect each other’s needs without you having to direct them to do so? Do they pick up the phone instead of sending an e-mail when they have a question for a teammate?
Question 2 – Does the Team Explore Opportunities to Improve?
An effective team, whether co-located or virtual, should develop a culture of continuous improvement and avoid complacency. Once they become overly satisfied with their work, they will stop improving and stagnate, which is what we want to avoid. A high-performing team will take initiative and look for better ways to do things, even if they seem trivial on the surface.
Question 3 – Does the Team “Self-Manage”?
From my experience, virtual teams have a tendency of waiting for instruction and direction before acting. This could be caused by a lack of clarity on the end goals or aversion to taking risks due to fear of being wrong or penalized. A high-performing virtual team needs to feel empowered to experiment and make decisions without consulting management staff every single time. Giving the team autonomy will enable them to self-manage and not sit around waiting for a specific direction.
In closing, building and operating an effective virtual Agile team is no simple feat. It will need a lot of trust and reflection, as well as adaptation. Challenging the team to take a more structured approach to communication will help bridge the physical distance between the team members and help them collaborate more effectively.