How to make your virtual team work – part 4

Hello, this is the 4th video based on the keynote presentation to the PMI Serbia Chapter Project Society Conference, Belgrade, September 2015. This section deals with a checklist for virtual team building based on personal experience.

One of the issues is how big should a team be, and in fact this applies also to non-virtual teams and co-located teams. The project manager needs time to support the work package manager and the more work package managers there are, the more the time is divided. There comes a point where the communication between them is simply not strong enough. If there are too many work package managers, then the communication and the alignment doesn’t happen through the project manager.

One of the questions is: “How big can that be?” How many people can work with one project manager depends on a lot of things: on the competence of the work package manages but also on the communications environment. In a virtual environment, the communication can even be better, more frequent and more flexible. They can send messages to each other and have an ongoing slow conversation and move things along where in another environment they might get stuck. The same applies at the next level down: a work package manager may have a task leader involved, but if these task leaders are doing more or less the same job, then the variety of issues is less and maybe the work package manager can handle more.

The next topic is: should we network with teams or individuals? Networking with individuals is a little risky, because if someone goes ill or on holiday, there is nobody nearby to keep things moving. If on the other hand the nodes of the network are teams rather than individuals, it tends to be more stable.

Another issue is the format of communication through these various nodes. If for example we have the situation shown, that two of the nodes are in one continent and then all the others are in a different continent, then you can see that the person who is highlighted, effectively becomes the filter through which all communication goes.

It could be for example a senior manager or it could because that person speaks the appropriate language or so forth. But the people on the left really don’t know what’s happening on the right. What they get is the version which is presented to them by that interface person. So it may be sensible to make sure there are not many of those situations within a project, particularly if there is critical information passing between one side and another.

Another issue to consider is the level of diversity. For every type of diversity it makes the working more complex, so for example if people don’t have the same culture, then they may not interact in the same way. Some cultures for example will tell you something and if they believe that’s correct, they will say “yes thank you, I agree with that”. In other cultures, they would say nothing, implying “I heard you; I didn’t say anything so I agreed”. This sort of mismatch can cause a lot of problems in a virtual team.

And then there can be other issues like climate, time zone, language and so on and every one of those which is different leads to potential complexity within the virtual team.

There is a slide which includes a number of other challenges which you might review offline, but for example: when you talk, you don’t know who else is listening. I remember a project where there were two people who had different roles and with whom I used to deal with independently. Then I visited the site they were working on and discovered that they were in desks beside each other. What I thought was being communicated with one section of the project or another was in fact going into the public domain between the two of them.

Another feature I’ve noticed over the years is that if there’s a technical communication problem, the receiver believes that the sender is at fault. For example, in a conference where nearly everybody can hear the speaker. One person cannot but their reaction will be to blame the speaker and say “your microphone is not working” but actually the issue could be on the receiving end. This is particularly true if everybody else can hear. Or an email is distributed and some people say “no, I didn’t get, I didn’t get it” but others got it and it’s usually email is very reliable.

Our reactions are built around an assumption that we’re all in the same place, but of course in virtual teams that’s not so.

So if you wish to discuss any of your own project issues with me, please do connect through all the usual methods: either through our website at,an email, a phone call or connecting by LinkedIn. I look forward to hearing from you, thank you.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.


Tel: +41 79 692 4735 Talk to me

LinkedIn: Connect with me

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