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Creating a Communication, Contingency Plan and Training Your Virtual Team

Page history last edited by James Weaver 6 years, 10 months ago

Author: Denise Rodriguez 

Date Created: 02/10/2013

 

Communication Strategy

Failing to communicate effectively can affect the success of a project. Creating a
Communication Plan and Strategy can help to avoid this pitfall. A communication plan should include methods of communication, stakeholders to receive communications, communication deliverable with dates and contingencies for when certain communication methods fail.

Methods of Communication

It is important that all the preferred methods of communication and their appropriate usage are documented for the virtual team. A virtual team may greatly benefit from Instant Messaging, shared document storage space, a social media / news feed site, web-conferences, email and phone. The virtual team should understand at the beginning of the project, which methods of communication should be used. When choosing methods of communication, keep in mind:

Geographical impacts

  • Would phone calls for international virtual teams be cost-effective?
  • Will cultural differences affect the interpretation of emails?
  • Should web-conferences and meeting times be catered to the meeting’s key stakeholders?


Communication Flow

  • How will communication flow through the team?
  • Which methods of communication are best for different instances?
  • How should communication flow upward? Downward?
  • Who is the main point-of-contact for communication issues?


Project Processes

  • How will issues be documented and escalated?
  • Where will meeting minutes be stored?
  • What is the approval process for project deliverable?



Asking these questions will help in determining and developing a communication plan. If this analysis is not completed for the communication plan, there could be impacts to the project and team performance. One example Lakshminarasimhan mentions inCreating a Communication Plan for a Virtual Team, is setting late meetings for key stakeholders in a different geographical time zone, where they may be tired, unfocused and therefore performance and key decisions are impacted (Lakshminarasimhan, 2011).

Communications Stakeholders

Compiling a list of stakeholders and what communications they should be involved in is
necessary for the communication plan. The stakeholders should include not only the virtual team members, but all that influence or are impacted by the project. Documenting when the stakeholders are impacted and defining the communications they should receive, whether it’s a meeting, email, documentation, etc. will be crucial in ensuring communication is successful across the project.

Contingencies

Should a method of communication fail? Whether it’s technical or just a misunderstanding of information, contingencies should be set in place. Document the backup plans in case one of the communication channels fails. For example, if the collaboration tool or email is down, use phone calls as the backup. Ensure that the virtual team has access to each other’s phone numbers and set some rules, like requiring team members to use shared calendars or using the status on instant messaging for location and when they are away or busy.

Sharing the Communication Plan

It is important that the communication plan is shared and understood by the virtual team. This should happen at the beginning of the project. The team input should be valued and the plan should be updated accordingly. As the project progresses, the communication plan and team should be monitored to ensure consistency between what is documented and the team’s actions.  


Meeting Etiquette

Defining and enforcing meeting etiquette guidelines is crucial to running effective meetings on a virtual team. Without these guidelines, meetings can be often be hijacked, team members can be disruptive or unengaged and meeting goals may not be met.

Facilitator Etiquette

  • Include an agenda in the meeting invite and define meeting goals
  • Watch time and stay on track
  • Appoint a scribe
  • Share documentation, the screen or a collaboration space, when possible phone etiquette
  • Mute when not speaking to avoid background noise
  • Join from a quiet area with minimal disruptions
  • Speak loudly and clearly using proper equipment (headset with microphone, a phone with a good connection, etc.)


Video-Conferencing Etiquette

  • Dress as if you were working in person
  • Make eye contact with the camera
  • Avoid disruption when others are speaking, especially for technologies that bring focus to the speaker


As Campisi says in Minding manners: Conferencing technologies involve new etiquette “The bottom line, though, has always been and will continue to be common courtesy and consideration. This is as true on a conference call as it is in a conference room. “Like any face-to-face meeting, avoid checking emails, side-tracking the agenda, listen, stay engaged and arrive on-time” (Campisi, 2003).

Training Virtual Teams

Providing proper training to a virtual team will play a vital role in the kick-off and success of a project.

Collaboration Tool Training
Since the tools utilized for collaboration and communication will be key during the project, it is important that the virtual team understands best practices and procedures for using the tool. Providing up-front training, along with documented procedures and training material references will help to avoid delays due to user issues within the system. Also, the training will help the virtual team understand all the capabilities in order to reach the tool’s full capacity.

Skills Training
Consider the skills needed for a successful project and see where skills can be improved across the virtual team members. As Dorr mentions in 3 Steps to Support Virtual Teams, some team members may have strong technical skills, but may have an opportunity to improve their communication skills (Dorr, 2012). Also, new skill needs may arise during the project, where training would be needed. Lastly, training on working effectively within virtual teams or understanding cultural differences could be effective for virtual teams.

 

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts grind projects to a stand-still. A project manager that is embarking on a project involving virtual collaboration needs to be exceptional at conflict resolution. It is a good idea for physical employees to receive conflict resolution training and even more so in virtual teaming. Additionally if the virtual team crosses international borders, a plan to educate team members on cultural differences should be implemented.  

It is important to quickly identify and solve the roots of conflict in virtual teaming. It is difficult for a supervisor to extend influence across a virtual platform so workers should be properly vetted before inclusion onto a virtual team. Sometimes employee selection is mandated and not open for negotiation during the development of virtual teams. The project manager should explicitly develop procedures beforehand to deal with difficult employees.

Poor performance among workers is often masked until deliverable deadlines. In these instances, deliverables can miss the original deadline due to not being completed or due to being shoddily completed and needing revision. Virtual team members who cannot meet deadlines should receive appropriate reprimand or be removed from the team.

An effective project manager that leads a virtual team should understand that not all conflict will be apparent. A project manager can institute an anonymous peer evaluation system where workers can discuss the difficulties (or ease) of working with other members of the virtual teams. Certain information may come out from anonymous peer information that would be difficult for a project manager to come to know.

 

 

 

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