Monday, August 18, 2008

Virtual teams: achieving a Skynet level of efficiency

Despite the room space in the Schulich basement (for which we’re grateful), the Bright Ideas Group really does operate like a virtual organization. There is no fixed place where we meet, no fixed time, no fixed office protocol. As a result we have had to develop our processes and project coordination competencies to a much greater degree, relying on frequent informal communication and enforced deadlines. B!G’s virtual organization is bound by the tacit understanding shared by all Associates and Executives regarding the project objectives, industry characteristics, and evolution of the account.

That being said, there are still days when I wonder how no one else is on the same page as me!
Managing a virtual organization must come with significant challenges and we face these as we grow and develop stricter business procedures and project standards. Here are a few of my favourite virtual organization best practices and some anecdotes of how I’ve had to learn them the hard way!

Internalizing a few of these suggestions might help you mold your virtual organization from this:

…to this:

Don’t be afraid to delegate

Rarely are projects completed because individuals fall into their organic roles and competencies naturally. Delegating responsibility to Associates, especially in situations where management and team facilitation is performed remotely allows the project lead to maintain a semblance of control and accountability. Individuals on the team understand what specific deliverables they are responsible for and the team is better able to complete work separately.

Unfortunately I’ve had to learn this rule the hard way by previously taking the tack of “not micromanaging” and instead providing overarching strategy and vision rather than concrete, measured (and measurable) chunks of work.

Deadlines are useless without checkpoints

“Have it done in a month”, I used to say. No good. It was done in a month, but the actual work was only performed ridiculously close to the deadline and often showed significant gaps in the insight and scope. Of course one should set deadlines, but considering that you’re not working in a physical office with your team where you can have daily progress checks, it might make sense to also set sequential, doable hurdles for each Associate on the team. These course corrections are critical so that each individual understands not only the context of the work they have since completed, but the context of the work that they have yet to complete.

I learned this lesson the hard way when it was obvious that far more analysis needed to be performed on a client deliverable. Although it’s no excuse, the client was out of the office and would not see the deliverable for another two weeks – at which time it would be right at the top of her email inbox!

Encourage lateral communication

This is a wonderful thing to precipitate among the team because it achieves an almost viral traction for the purposes of team-building. Associates talking to each other and sharing their insights. Collaborating and coming to solid knowledge-based conclusions. It’s beautiful! While sufficient managerial guidance sets the framework and guidelines for the project to be completed, lateral communication among Associates in each team imbues feelings of self-actualization in A good virtual manager must set up the avenues to facilitate lateral communication among the team, including a private Facebook page, intranet, Google Docs, or regularly scheduled Skype conferences.

I’m not sure I ever learned this one the hard way – I love to talk and love it when my team can do the talking for me!

So those are just a few of my thoughts on how a virtual team can be successful. Although this was an original post, I must give significant credit to a recent article for providing me with the inspiration for this topic – a lot of their points about managing virtual teams resonated with my experience with B!G.

To any clients reading this, you'll be happy to know that this semester, our Associates and Executives have all been implanted with transponders and are wirelessly synced to Skynet's neural cortex.

Inefficiency is futile!


Ana said...

A little unclear on the first point. Perhaps you mean that effective managers delegate but also take an active role in the day-to-day micro-management of a project?

Max Billings said...

Exactly what I mean! Lol, and that's exactly what I'm going to learn to do more of this year - that, and contradict myself wildly!

Olga said...

Max, how did you manage to get the copywriting team together for that picture with all the steam? They look a little shiny to me.