Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘purpose

The Key Components of Virtual Teams

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A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who, committed to common purpose and performance goals, hold themselves mutually accountable. Virtual teams on the other hand are teams of people who primarily interact electronically and may occasionally meet face-to-face. They include teams of people working at different geographic sites or a project team whose members telecommute.

Virtual teams effectively deal with the realities of time compression, distributed resources, increasing dependency on knowledge-based input, a premium on flexibility and adaptability, and the fact that most of the information they use is in electronic form.

They take advantage of the electronic infrastructure, which enables them to work in parallel rather than serially, having continuous access to the latest and best knowledge and information. This allows individual team members to participate from remote sites without abandoning other aspects of their work and home lives.

The flexibility of virtual teams allows them to bring new team members up to speed through the online record of ongoing work. The fact that they are able to capture their collective work electronically—often in real time—makes it easier for other teams to access their efforts.

This is important since the rationale for virtual teams centers around the differences in time and space for team members. Team members may not be physically connected, so it may not be practical to consistently travel for face-to-face meetings. The fact that individual team members may be working in different time zones and work shifts poses additional challenges for leaders who manage these teams.

Skill Sets

There are four basic components for the success of virtual teams:

  • The selection of the right team members
  • Identifying and communicating a clear and common purpose
  • Developing an appropriate high-performance technical infrastructure
  • Ensuring that the organizational culture supports the information sharing required by the team

Selection of the Right Team Members

Best practices in the management of virtual teams derived from the review of a number of corporate case studies reveal that the virtual team environment is not for everyone. Not all individuals are equally adept at handling the uncertainty and responsibilities associated with virtual teams. Past participants who require a significant amount of structure in their work environment have reported feeling lost in this type of less structured work environment. For the right candidate, virtual teams can provide the freedom, flexibility and challenge to maintain his or her interest.

Managers should choose individuals for virtual teamwork carefully. Individual team membership should be based on the core competencies needed to achieve the desired outcome. However, in selecting the right candidates, qualities like responsibility, dependability, independence and self-sufficiency crucial to the viability of virtual teamwork should be considered. Individuals who possess the needed skills and appropriate temperament should be recruited regardless of standing or title within the company. In many cases, an employee’s manager on one project may be their staff on the next. The bottom line is that virtual teams are developed based upon the skill sets best suited to meeting the project’s requirements.

The Virtual Team Concept

Virtual teams typically follow a three-part model, the components of which capture the essential qualities of successful virtual teams. They represent the capabilities and behaviors needed to succeed in complex knowledge work in virtual environments. The three components include:

  • People
  • Purpose
  • Links

People

People populate small groups and teams of every kind at every level.

Purpose

Purpose holds all groups together, but for teams, the task that expresses the shared goal is the purpose. The purpose should be defined according to the cooperative goals set at the beginning of any successful teaming process. Interdependent tasks enable teams to accomplish the desired purpose initially defined with outcomes and measurable results at the completion of the project.

Links

Links are the channels, interactions, and relationships weaving the fabric of the team as it develops over time. The greatest difference between conventional teams and virtual teams is the nature and variety of their links. It is what makes virtual teams distinctive. The electronic infrastructure accessed by virtual teams makes their distance-related interactions possible.

Trust in Virtual Teams

The world of virtual teams has many benefits in bringing together people of talent, providing international perspectives and saving a corporation the expense of physically bringing the team together.

However, virtual teams can’t work together until trust is established between its members. The dilemma faced by leaders is how team members build trust when they seldom if ever get a chance to meet the other person and observe their actions and behaviors. Before trust is established in virtual teams, individual team members must be able to answer three questions about one another:

  • Value – Do you have anything to offer me?
  • Commitment – Can I count on you?
  • Thoroughness – Will you get it straight?

Value

The initial conversation with a team member is the first place that value is displayed. Before any discussions and dialogue take place, qualifications of all team members should be shared with the team. This may be in the form of a resume, profile or professional listing that all can access.

Individual team members should be encouraged to communicate with each other and learn more about each other’s jobs, their personal goals and what they want and need from each other.

Leaders should inform team members that because most communications will take place electronically, their tone of voice, energy level and enthusiasm does much to transmit the value they are bringing to the team.

Commitment

Participation on a virtual team means that an individual’s work and contributions are not readily observable. This degree of freedom comes with added responsibility for individual team members. There is no one there to appreciate the efforts that one person is contributing to a project. The question becomes whether individual team members are committed to the success of the team. Other team members can only judge by what is related and shown to them. Team members need to be accessible, especially through instant messaging, to remind other team members that they are on the job.

Delivering large projects in smaller pieces is also advisable. Due to geographic constraints, personal commitment to the success of a virtual team takes additional work and increased expectations. It is up to team leaders to monitor the activities and output of individual members to ensure that all are committed to the success of the project.

Thoroughness

In the virtual world the most common response to something going wrong is silence. The burden of any mistake is more likely to fall on the absent person who “didn’t get the job done.”

Virtual team members must take control of their circumstances, double check and follow up more than in a face-to-face world. They must listen for concerns and questions from other team members. They must advise other team members of potential problems before they occur. Attention to minor details is more critical on virtual teams, since they can readily turn into major perceived problems by the rest of the team.

Once trust is established on a virtual team, its benefits will be realized. Things will work more smoothly with everyone sharing a positive attitude. The team will be more productive, respond to more significant opportunities and grow in both capabilities and confidence.

Excerpt: Managing Virtual Teams in the Global Economy: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) 19.95 USD
 
Related:

How Personal Agendas Can Destroy a Team

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

When Performance Lags, Look to the Team Culture

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

There are Only Three Reasons to Form a Team

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smallgroup9

A group does not become a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team. This requires discipline that brings the team together with a common purpose, approach and responsibility. This discipline is critical to the success of all teams. Yet, effective teams also have a focus within the organization.

Trust and commitment are the results of individuals working toward a common objective. Consequently, teams enjoy a strong common purpose and approach that holds them responsible both as individuals and as a team for their performance. This sense of mutual accountability produces the rich reward of equal achievement that is shared by all team members.

This topic is of critical importance to leaders because teams are becoming the primary unit of performance management in many organizations. This does not mean that teams will crowd out individual opportunities in a formal hierarchy: teams will enhance existing structures without replacing them. Team opportunities exist anywhere hierarchy and organizational boundaries inhibit the skills and perspective needed for optimal results. Teams have a unique potential to deliver results to the organization in these situations.

Organizations must create the kind of environment that enables performance by teams, individuals and the organization.

Groups established as teams with the primary purposes of job enhancement, communication, organizational effectiveness or excellence rarely become effective. Only when appropriate performance goals are set can the process of discussing objectives and approaches give team members clear alternatives. At that point they can disagree with the goal and the path that the team selects; in effect, they can opt out, or they can pitch in and become accountable with and to their team members.

Most effective teams are classified in one of three ways.

Teams That Recommend

These teams include task forces, project groups, audit groups, quality groups and safety groups that are asked to study and resolve particular problems. Teams formed to render recommendations almost always have predetermined completion dates. Two critical issues unique to such teams are getting off to a fast, constructive start and dealing with the ultimate handoff required to get their recommendations implemented.

The key to the issue of a fast start lies with the clarity of the team’s charter and the composition of its membership. In addition to wanting to know why and how their efforts are important, task forces need a clear direction as to time commitment and the people senior management expects to participate. Management can assist these groups by ensuring the inclusion of individuals with the skills and influence necessary for crafting practical recommendations that will carry weight throughout the organization.

The ultimate handoff is almost always a difficulty for such teams. To avoid this, teams should transfer the responsibility for recommendations to those who must implement them. The more that senior management assumes recommendations will just “happen,” the less likely this will be the case. The more involvement team members have in executing their recommendations, the more likely they will get implemented.

Teams That Make or Do

These teams include people at or near the front lines who are well acquainted with the value-added activities of the organization and responsible for basic manufacturing, development operations, marketing, sales or service. With some notable exceptions, such as new product development or process design teams, these teams tend to have no set completion dates, as their activities are ongoing and continuous.

These teams have the greatest impact on their organization when they focus on the company’s critical delivery points. These are the places where the cost and value of products and services are most directly determined. Performance at these points depends upon combining multiple skills, perspectives and judgments in real time. Here the team option is considered the smartest direction for organizations to proceed.

Teams that make or do must have a relentless focus on performance. Senior management must make clear, compelling demands on these teams and pay constant attention to their progress with respect to both team basics and performance results.

Teams That Run Things

Despite the fact that many leaders refer to the group reporting to them as a team, few groups accept this label. Groups that become real teams seldom think of themselves as a team due to the high degree to which they are focused on performance results.

The main issue these teams face is the determination of whether a real team approach is appropriate to the situation. As many entities can be more effective as working groups than teams, the key is to decide whether individual performances will suffice or substantial and incremental performance through real team products is required.

Working groups present fewer risks in that they need little time to shape their purpose since the leader usually establishes it, meetings are run regardless of prior ties to agendas, and group decisions are implemented in relation to specific individual assignments and accountabilities.

In practical terms, most teams that run things tend to be smaller, usually two to four people.

Excerpt: A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

How Personal Agendas Can Destroy a Team

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

When Performance Lags, Look to the Team Culture

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 10, 2013 at 11:21 am

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

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Critical thinking can be defined as “learning to think better by improving one’s thinking skills.” Individuals who are critical thinkers use the thinking process to analyze (consider and reflect) and synthesize (piece together) what they have learned or are currently learning. Unfortunately, much of everyone’s thinking tends to be biased, imprecise, unclear, uninformed or prejudiced. Since this becomes severely limiting, critical thinking is needed to improve its quality and value.

Within the organizational setting critical thinking is necessary for: overcoming problems, making changes, modifications or adaptations within work structures, methods and problem solving situations, resolving situational conflict and pressing issues, and inventing and implementing new ideas, techniques and solutions.

Critical thinking development is a gradual process. It requires: mastering plateaus of learning as well as maintaining a serious focus on the process itself, changing personal habits of thought, which tends to be a long-range project, and extensive development time.

Within the process of critical thinking it is important to recognize what does not comprise its basic elements or components. Critical thinking is not accomplished by: saying something without carefully thinking it through, taking a guess at what one thinks “should” be done, memorizing material to analyze, discuss or examine, doing something just because it has always been done, believing something because it is what everyone else tends to believe, or arguing about something when there are no facts to back up the argument.

Critical Thinking Qualities

There are certain qualities critical thinkers possess and these characteristics tend to categorize individuals as “deep thinkers,” which separates them from more typical “basic thinkers.” Critical thinkers tend to be self-disciplined, self-directed, self-monitored and self-corrective thinkers. They raise essential or crucial questions and problems and then proceed to formulate them clearly and precisely. Critical thinkers gather, assemble, evaluate and appraise relevant information. They come to well-reasoned deductions, conclusions and solutions, while measuring and testing them against relevant standards and criteria. They also keep an open mind within alternative systems of thought while continually recognizing and assessing their assumptions and lines of reasoning. Finally, critical thinkers communicate effectively with others in seeking out and determining solutions for challenges and problems.

There tends to be six developmental thinking phases that lead to “mastering” the art of critical thinking. Through extensive practice and applications of the process, individuals can expect to begin altering and eventually changing their individual habits of thought. Each progressive phase is described below.

Phase One: The Unenlightened Thinker — individuals generally are not consciously aware that significant problems do exist within their current patterns of thinking.

Phase Two: The Confronted Thinker — individuals are aware that existing problems are evident or apparent within their process of thinking.

Phase Three: The Novice Thinker — individuals try to initiate improvements within their thinking, but without relying on regular or consistent practice.

Phase Four: The Proactive Thinker — individuals do recognize the importance of regular practice to improve and enhance their thinking.

Phase Five: The Developed Thinker — individuals begin to advance in accordance with the amount of practice that is awarded to the process.

Phase Six: The Mastery Thinker — individuals become skilled and insightful, where reflective, analytical and evaluative thinking becomes second nature.

Individuals can only develop through these phases if they accept the fact that there are serious problems with their current processes and methods of thinking, and are able to accept the challenge that their thinking presents to them and make it a point to begin regular practice to improve and enhance the components and elements of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking Relies Upon Clarity of Purpose

In order to develop critical thinking, it is important for individuals to be clear as to the purpose of the task or topic at hand, and the main question that is at issue in regard to it. To accomplish this goal, it is essential to: strive to be clear, accurate, precise and relevant, practice thinking beneath the surface, be logical and fair-minded, apply critical thinking skills to all reading, writing, speaking and listening activities, and apply these skills to all aspects of work as well as life in general.

Questioning: The Impetus for Critical Thinking

Dead questions reflect dead minds. Unfortunately, most individuals, (even managers, leaders and trainers) tend not to ask many thought-stimulating types of questions. They tend to stick to dead questions like, “Is this going to be what is expected from now on?” or, “How are we supposed to understand (or do) this?” and other questions that outwardly imply the desire not to think.

Some managers, leaders, trainers or facilitators in turn are not themselves generators of in-depth questions and answers of their own making, which aids in establishing non-critical thinking environments. These individuals are not seriously engaged in thinking through or rethinking through their own initiatives, issues, concerns, topics or instructional concepts and resort to being mere purveyors of the “questions and answers of others.” They often end up initiating or responding to some initial concerns or issues that tend to surface spontaneously during a discussion or meeting, without having personal background information that would otherwise help stimulate deeper levels of creative probing and evaluative questioning. Sometimes they tend to apply second-hand information, knowledge or questions that have been passed down, which limits creative assessments and deeper level questioning. Often they find themselves referencing authors or others who are considered to be experts or leaders in their field rather than questioning important workplace-related issues, ideas, methods or concerns that need to be probed in-depth.

Questioning Through Critical Thinking Keeps the Organization Alive

Every company stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously. These questions are then used as the driving force for generating and implementing changes. To think through or rethink anything, individuals within an organization must ask questions that stimulate deeper levels of thought. Questions define tasks, express problems and identify issues. While answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when answers generate further questions does thought continue to add value in terms of personal as well as organizational growth and change.

It is important to remember that individuals within an organization, who generate and ask serious and insightful questions, are the ones who are, in fact, truly thinking, developing and learning. It is possible to move an organization forward by just asking employees to list all of the questions that they have about an issue, method or topic, including all questions generated by their first list of questions. However, deep questions drive out thoughts that rest underneath the surface of things and force individuals to deal with complexity. While questions of purpose force individuals to define “their task,” questions of information force individuals to look at their source(s) of information as well as its quality.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leaders Possess a Deeply Embedded Sense of Purpose

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Andrew Carnegie

Many of great leaders included within my research universally started their careers as ambitious individuals. They didn’t limit themselves to simply working to sustain themselves. They knew opportunities would present themselves if they worked hard and remained patient.

They had a deeply embedded sense of purpose. Unlike many other young people, who tended to view entry-level jobs with distain, these individuals took their obligations seriously, and viewed their responsibilities as a way to prove themselves.

Michael Dell (Dell Computers) began washing dishes at the age of twelve. Warren Buffett sold newspapers, as did Curtis Carlson (Carson Companies). Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) began his career selling magazines as a youth.

They always did their best no matter how small the task, were attentive to details, and were diligent in making themselves indispensible to their employers. Their work ethic did not go unnoticed, and they were often rewarded with promotions and additional responsibility.

Andrew Carnegie’s (Carnegie Steel) diligence as a telegraph operator caught the attention of Thomas Scott, Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, of whom Carnegie became a protégée. This relationship facilitated his growth and presented him with many investment opportunities that became the basis of Carnegie’s wealth.

Concerning a lifelong work ethic, John Jacob Astor stated,

“The man who makes it the habit of his life to go to bed at nine o’clock usually gets rich and is always reliable. Of course, going to bed does not make him rich—I merely mean that such a man will in all probability be up early in the morning and do a big day’s work, so his weary bones put him to bed early. Rogues do their work at night. Honest men work by day. It’s all a matter of habit, and good habits in America make any man rich. Wealth is largely a result of habit.”

The outcome of this work ethic contributed to the development of the Legitimacy Principles in their lives. This was essential to their future success. It would ultimately provide them with the ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

Related: Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership

Olive Ann Beech (Beech Aircraft) said:

“If you enjoy your work, all you have to do is be capable and take the pitfalls along with the good…”

Without the foundation of the Legitimacy Principles established early in their careers, they would not have been able to summon the support of others that they would require to take advantage of new and emerging opportunities.

Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) often observed,

“Becoming successful was easy. All I did was ask our people to work half a day, I don’t care which, the first half or the second half’’

Another contributing factor to their early success was a devotion to learning outside of the workplace, which allowed them to increase their personal value by mastering new skills and expertise.

Related: You Don’t Choose Your Passions, Your Passions Choose You

These individuals studied everything they could get their hands on to develop personal mastery of a variety of subjects, but they especially focused on the topics that directly related to their work.

  • Carnegie was a prolific reader and used his knowledge to overmatch and outwit his competitors.
  • Henry Ford and Michael Dell acquired knowledge by taking things apart and rebuilding them.
  • Edison and Westinghouse devoured scientific journals for insights and usable ideas.

The evidence clearly supports that the majority of great leaders are lifelong learners. In some cases, such as Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), both were obsessed with learning and investigating everything they could about their business, markets, competition and customers. They even went so far as to share their knowledge with each other.

For more information on this topic and to read a free chapter, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Are Your Teams Really Working Groups?

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Teams are a critical component of every organization as the predominant vehicle for decision-making and accomplishing tasks. A team is defined as a group of people who need each other to accomplish specific results.

Teamwork represents a set of values that encourages listening, responds constructively to views expressed by others, gives others the benefit of the doubt, provides support and recognizes the interests and achievements of others. These values help teams, their individual members, and the entire organization perform.

In many organizational environments, working groups and teams are both essentially used in the same way despite there being a measurable difference between the two. Working groups are simply a loose combination of individuals working toward a common goal. These groups’ structures will vary according to the makeup and personalities of the members. Teams, on the other hand, are governed by a specific team structure that takes into account member roles, responsibilities, rules and boundaries.

It is important for leaders to understand the distinctions between groups and teams. Most individuals who work within groups perform as individuals. Teams require a common commitment to which members hold themselves mutually accountable. They are committed to a common purpose and a set of performance goals and approaches.

Related: There are Only Three Reasons to Form a Team

Teams differ fundamentally from working groups because they require both individual and mutual accountability. Teams go beyond group discussion, debate and decision-making and do more than simply share information and best practice performance standards.

To understand how teams deliver extra performance, it is important for leaders to distinguish between teams and other forms of working groups.

Results and Accountability

A key distinction between groups and teams is found in performance results. A group’s performance is a function of what its individual members do as individuals: members don’t take responsibility for results other than their own, nor do they attempt to develop incremental performance contributions requiring the combined work of two or more members.

A team’s performance includes both individual results and the collective results of the team. The collective results reflect the joint and real contributions of team members.

Leadership

A strong and clearly focused leader typically directs working groups. Due to the nature of the group’s leadership, the individual leader has the ability to influence the work and results the group produces.

Teams, on the other hand, develop shared leadership roles that are established by team members. This reduces the influence of a single team member on the results of the team.

Related: Seven Characteristics of Strong Teams

Purpose

Working groups focus on a purpose that is the same as the broader organizational mission, whereas teams focus on a specific team purpose for which they are established to address. The team focuses on a specific purpose, and the results are focused to particularly fulfill that established purpose.

Output

Teams produce discrete work products through the joint contributions of their members. Possible performance levels are greater than the sum of the individual contributions of its members. Working group performance, however, is simply the product of the results of individual members.

Meetings

Working groups perform their work in efficiently run meetings. Teams encourage open-ended discussions and active problem solving throughout their meetings. The team meeting is specifically structured to encourage these activities. Within this structure, meetings are guided and directed by the roles and responsibilities of team members and are defined by the boundaries and framework established by the team to govern its activities.

Related: Five Critical Factors of Team Success

Measurement

Working groups measure their effectiveness indirectly by their influence on others. Teams measure performance by directly assessing the collective results of the team and its ability to fulfill its purpose and mission. The results of the team make something specific happen, and that adds real value to the results. By contrast, gathering as a working group from time to time does not sustain the group’s performance.

Methodology

Working groups discuss, decide and delegate the work of the group to individual members or committees. Teams discuss, decide and then complete the real work required together as a team. Within teams, performance goals are compelling; they challenge individuals to commit themselves as a team to make a difference within the organization. Since goals are challenging, the onus is on the team alone to make it happen.

Excerpt: A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

October 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

The Key Components of Virtual Teams

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A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who, committed to common purpose and performance goals, hold themselves mutually accountable. Virtual teams on the other hand are teams of people who primarily interact electronically and may occasionally meet face-to-face. They include teams of people working at different geographic sites or a project team whose members telecommute.

Virtual teams effectively deal with the realities of time compression, distributed resources, increasing dependency on knowledge-based input, a premium on flexibility and adaptability, and the fact that most of the information they use is in electronic form.

They take advantage of the electronic infrastructure, which enables them to work in parallel rather than serially, having continuous access to the latest and best knowledge and information. This allows individual team members to participate from remote sites without abandoning other aspects of their work and home lives.

The flexibility of virtual teams allows them to bring new team members up to speed through the online record of ongoing work. The fact that they are able to capture their collective work electronically—often in real time—makes it easier for other teams to access their efforts.

This is important since the rationale for virtual teams centers around the differences in time and space for team members. Team members may not be physically connected, so it may not be practical to consistently travel for face-to-face meetings. The fact that individual team members may be working in different time zones and work shifts poses additional challenges for leaders who manage these teams.

Skill Sets

There are four basic components for the success of virtual teams:

  • The selection of the right team members
  • Identifying and communicating a clear and common purpose
  • Developing an appropriate high-performance technical infrastructure
  • Ensuring that the organizational culture supports the information sharing required by the team

Selection of the Right Team Members

Best practices in the management of virtual teams derived from the review of a number of corporate case studies reveal that the virtual team environment is not for everyone. Not all individuals are equally adept at handling the uncertainty and responsibilities associated with virtual teams. Past participants who require a significant amount of structure in their work environment have reported feeling lost in this type of less structured work environment. For the right candidate, virtual teams can provide the freedom, flexibility and challenge to maintain his or her interest.

Managers should choose individuals for virtual teamwork carefully. Individual team membership should be based on the core competencies needed to achieve the desired outcome. However, in selecting the right candidates, qualities like responsibility, dependability, independence and self-sufficiency crucial to the viability of virtual teamwork should be considered. Individuals who possess the needed skills and appropriate temperament should be recruited regardless of standing or title within the company. In many cases, an employee’s manager on one project may be their staff on the next. The bottom line is that virtual teams are developed based upon the skill sets best suited to meeting the project’s requirements.

The Virtual Team Concept

Virtual teams typically follow a three-part model, the components of which capture the essential qualities of successful virtual teams. They represent the capabilities and behaviors needed to succeed in complex knowledge work in virtual environments. The three components include:

  • People
  • Purpose
  • Links

People

People populate small groups and teams of every kind at every level.

Purpose

Purpose holds all groups together, but for teams, the task that expresses the shared goal is the purpose. The purpose should be defined according to the cooperative goals set at the beginning of any successful teaming process. Interdependent tasks enable teams to accomplish the desired purpose initially defined with outcomes and measurable results at the completion of the project.

Links

Links are the channels, interactions, and relationships weaving the fabric of the team as it develops over time. The greatest difference between conventional teams and virtual teams is the nature and variety of their links. It is what makes virtual teams distinctive. The electronic infrastructure accessed by virtual teams makes their distance-related interactions possible.

Trust in Virtual Teams

The world of virtual teams has many benefits in bringing together people of talent, providing international perspectives and saving a corporation the expense of physically bringing the team together.

However, virtual teams can’t work together until trust is established between its members. The dilemma faced by leaders is how team members build trust when they seldom if ever get a chance to meet the other person and observe their actions and behaviors. Before trust is established in virtual teams, individual team members must be able to answer three questions about one another:

  • Value – Do you have anything to offer me?
  • Commitment – Can I count on you?
  • Thoroughness – Will you get it straight?

Value

The initial conversation with a team member is the first place that value is displayed. Before any discussions and dialogue take place, qualifications of all team members should be shared with the team. This may be in the form of a resume, profile or professional listing that all can access.

Individual team members should be encouraged to communicate with each other and learn more about each other’s jobs, their personal goals and what they want and need from each other.

Leaders should inform team members that because most communications will take place electronically, their tone of voice, energy level and enthusiasm does much to transmit the value they are bringing to the team.

Commitment

Participation on a virtual team means that an individual’s work and contributions are not readily observable. This degree of freedom comes with added responsibility for individual team members. There is no one there to appreciate the efforts that one person is contributing to a project. The question becomes whether individual team members are committed to the success of the team. Other team members can only judge by what is related and shown to them. Team members need to be accessible, especially through instant messaging, to remind other team members that they are on the job.

Delivering large projects in smaller pieces is also advisable. Due to geographic constraints, personal commitment to the success of a virtual team takes additional work and increased expectations. It is up to team leaders to monitor the activities and output of individual members to ensure that all are committed to the success of the project.

Thoroughness

In the virtual world the most common response to something going wrong is silence. The burden of any mistake is more likely to fall on the absent person who “didn’t get the job done.”

Virtual team members must take control of their circumstances, double check and follow up more than in a face-to-face world. They must listen for concerns and questions from other team members. They must advise other team members of potential problems before they occur. Attention to minor details is more critical on virtual teams, since they can readily turn into major perceived problems by the rest of the team.

Once trust is established on a virtual team, its benefits will be realized. Things will work more smoothly with everyone sharing a positive attitude. The team will be more productive, respond to more significant opportunities and grow in both capabilities and confidence.

Excerpt: Managing Virtual Teams in the Global Economy: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about how to effectively structure and manage virtual teams, refer to Managing Virtual Teams in the Global Economy: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

March 6, 2012 at 10:42 am

There are Only Three Reasons to Form a Team

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A group does not become a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team. This requires discipline that brings the team together with a common purpose, approach and responsibility. This discipline is critical to the success of all teams. Yet, effective teams also have a focus within the organization.

Trust and commitment are the results of individuals working toward a common objective. Consequently, teams enjoy a strong common purpose and approach that holds them responsible both as individuals and as a team for their performance. This sense of mutual accountability produces the rich reward of equal achievement that is shared by all team members.

This topic is of critical importance to leaders because teams are becoming the primary unit of performance management in many organizations. This does not mean that teams will crowd out individual opportunities in a formal hierarchy: teams will enhance existing structures without replacing them. Team opportunities exist anywhere hierarchy and organizational boundaries inhibit the skills and perspective needed for optimal results. Teams have a unique potential to deliver results to the organization in these situations.

Organizations must create the kind of environment that enables performance by teams, individuals and the organization.

Groups established as teams with the primary purposes of job enhancement, communication, organizational effectiveness or excellence rarely become effective. Only when appropriate performance goals are set can the process of discussing objectives and approaches give team members clear alternatives. At that point they can disagree with the goal and the path that the team selects; in effect, they can opt out, or they can pitch in and become accountable with and to their team members.

Most effective teams are classified in one of three ways.

Teams That Recommend

These teams include task forces, project groups, audit groups, quality groups and safety groups that are asked to study and resolve particular problems. Teams formed to render recommendations almost always have predetermined completion dates. Two critical issues unique to such teams are getting off to a fast, constructive start and dealing with the ultimate handoff required to get their recommendations implemented.

The key to the issue of a fast start lies with the clarity of the team’s charter and the composition of its membership. In addition to wanting to know why and how their efforts are important, task forces need a clear direction as to time commitment and the people senior management expects to participate. Management can assist these groups by ensuring the inclusion of individuals with the skills and influence necessary for crafting practical recommendations that will carry weight throughout the organization.

The ultimate handoff is almost always a difficulty for such teams. To avoid this, teams should transfer the responsibility for recommendations to those who must implement them. The more that senior management assumes recommendations will just “happen,” the less likely this will be the case. The more involvement team members have in executing their recommendations, the more likely they will get implemented.

Teams That Make or Do

These teams include people at or near the front lines who are well acquainted with the value-added activities of the organization and responsible for basic manufacturing, development operations, marketing, sales or service. With some notable exceptions, such as new product development or process design teams, these teams tend to have no set completion dates, as their activities are ongoing and continuous.

These teams have the greatest impact on their organization when they focus on the company’s critical delivery points. These are the places where the cost and value of products and services are most directly determined. Performance at these points depends upon combining multiple skills, perspectives and judgments in real time. Here the team option is considered the smartest direction for organizations to proceed.

Teams that make or do must have a relentless focus on performance. Senior management must make clear, compelling demands on these teams and pay constant attention to their progress with respect to both team basics and performance results.

Teams That Run Things

Despite the fact that many leaders refer to the group reporting to them as a team, few groups accept this label. Groups that become real teams seldom think of themselves as a team due to the high degree to which they are focused on performance results.

The main issue these teams face is the determination of whether a real team approach is appropriate to the situation. As many entities can be more effective as working groups than teams, the key is to decide whether individual performances will suffice or substantial and incremental performance through real team products is required.

Working groups present fewer risks in that they need little time to shape their purpose since the leader usually establishes it, meetings are run regardless of prior ties to agendas, and group decisions are implemented in relation to specific individual assignments and accountabilities.

In practical terms, most teams that run things tend to be smaller, usually two to four people.

Excerpt: A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 17.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about focusing teams to produce results and positive outcomes, refer to A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

________________________________________________________________________________________
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

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