Profiling a Virtual Team
How to avoid nasty surprises in supporting virtual teams
From my experience of working with teams, often due to business deadline pressures, we do not spend enough time at the start taking a quick look or Profile of the overall shape of the team.
This means we often start trying to apply our toolkit of team effectiveness techniques and supporting virtual technology before we fully understand the precise nature of the complex, living and multi-faceted entity we are dealing with.
This generally results in nasty surprises which occur too late to do much about them.
For example in a previous article I discussed three broad types of teams – “Recommending”, “Managing” and “Doing” Teams and the very different problems they each have.
Recommender Teams are often part-time; great for reviewing work but can lack a “team engine” for getting detailed work done.
Managing Teams are often staffed with senior executives who have serious time management challenges and are unlikely to engage with traditional team communication and meeting approaches.
Doer teams are great for doing things but their networks may be limited to their own functional areas which can blind them to some innovation and cross-functional opportunities.
An organisational team profiler
We can see that even asking and discussing this one question in itself can yield hugely valuable insight into a particular team's most likely challenges.
So I offer here my team profiling checklist which can be used to rapidly profile an organisational team or multi-enterprise network across eight different dimensions.
It can be worked through with a senior member of a forming team in as little as 15 minutes.
I don’t pretend it is exhaustive but I do guarantee that if you use it properly it will identify at least 3 things about the team which you did not know about or were making invalid assumptions around and which will impact on your virtual team support plan!
First explore the eight areas:
- Nature of Team Objective
- Team Leadership/Management Style
- Team Member Profile
- Team Shape
- Team Environment
- Team Working Approach
- Team Social Dynamic
- Team Technology Factor
Then ask four questions:
- What are the constraints/givens in the team?
- What are the top problems/challenges for the team?
- What are the Technology Implications?
- What are the Change Management Implications?
The Full Checklist
- All answers can be ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘both’
- Feel free to add more questions
- I also include a mind-map version of the profiler which can be annotated as you work through with a team
1. Nature of Team Objective
Contingent (on others) versus Within Own Control?
Single or multiple Product Deliveries?
Must Have (people get sacked) or Nice to Have (people shrug shoulders and move on to something else)?
Scope already clearly defined or not?
Deadline already fixed or not, and if its fixed is it moveable?
'Recommending', 'Managing' or 'Doing' Team?
2. Team Leadership/Management Style
Dominant Style - Command and Control versus Self-Managed?
Formal or informal Project Style (meeting minutes, reports etc)?
Team consists mostly of Employees, Volunteers or Consultants/Suppliers?
3. Team Member Profile
Degree of co-location?
Mobility (what % of the working day are they at their desks/PCs)?
Single Organisation or Few Organisations or Many Organisations?
Single Profession or multi-disciplinary?
How many Languages/Business Cultures?
Full or Part-Time Project Manager?
How many Full-Time Members ?
How many Part-Time Members?
Reviewer/Expert Participation Level?
External Party Participation Level?
5. Team Environment
Prior existence of rules, standards and processes?
Degree of external dependency/approvals required for the team to act?
6. Team Working Approach
Partitioned or Co-operative Development?
What form do the Primary Team Meetings take?
What is the Primary Team Communication mechanism (e.g. phone or email)?
7. Team Social Dynamic
Degree to which team already know each other?
Willingness of team members to invest in team relationship development?
8. Team Technology Factor
Sophistication of shared technology environment?
Technology Capabilities of Team Members?
Bioteams Books Reviews
Leading complexity thinkers apply biological principles to enterprises: The Biology of Business is a set of essays by ten researchers and practitioners in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS).