I've been working with several other consultants virtually for a few weeks now. Things seem to be going well, but I am used to having more personal contact with team members than I do (although we spend a LOT of time on the phone). Am I worrying needlessly?
Virtual teams are increasingly a fact of life for consultants as well as our clients. We need to be able, through technology as well as behaviors and skills, to adapt to both the opportunities and constraints. The opportunities are that we can open up a larger client market (we can now work with a client several time zones away because we have a local affiliate), serve a wider client base (partner with people with skills not found in your local market), and operate larger and more complex projects (a "team" is no longer restricted to the 2-5 people you "always work with").
The greatest constraint is that we may be working with people we don't know very well, are limited in our ability to know and feel what they are thinking, and often use project management techniques developed for physical teams. The hidden risk is that there can be delays or miscues in communication leading to a loss of control (of which you may be unaware). We tend to think that regular check in calls compensate for high touch interaction. They don't. We must choose our team members carefully for not just their technical skills and experience, but also for how well we can understand and communicate with them. Tip:
Ask for a face-to-face meeting with your team as soon as possible, preferably before the project even starts. Spend enough time in work and social settings to develop a good rapport with other team members, both individually and as a group. Discuss decision making and problem solving processes while you are together in the same room. Build this time together (and as many additional sessions as possible, especially as the project closes out) into your budget. Skype may be great, but relying on it to make up for lack of personal contact can put your project at risk. © 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA