Building a Sense of Community in Your Virtual Team

10/7/2014

Building a sense of community and inclusion is a challenge for virtual team leaders. It requires constant and frequent maintenance to ensure that all participants feel a sense of community and trust in each other, as well as in the leader.

Community starts with demonstrating sensitivity to differences. This means knowing and understanding your own cultural preferences, understanding those of the team members, and having the skills to negotiate these differences.

As a project kick-off, hold a facilitated discussion of each member’s Cultural Orientation Indicator (COI) assessment, in which you acknowledge differences and create strategies to leverage these differences for the project’s success.

To establish positive and effective working agreements, discuss, structure and adhere to ground rules for how the team will function. It is advisable to do this in a face-to-face kick-off meeting, but if that’s not possible, a synchronous virtual session is an effective alternative. Regardless of the format, it is important to give enough time and opportunity for everyone’s opinions and needs to be considered while establishing these agreements.

Other actions that promote and build a sense of community and inclusion among virtual team members are:

  • Be an example of all behaviors expected of team members
  • Give everyone an opportunity for input
  • Respect preferences for type and frequency of communications
  • Maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others
  • Show respect for differences in interaction and thinking style of members
  • Encourage all members to participate fully
  • If disputes arise, focus on the situation or issue, not on the person or people involved
  • Maintain constructive relationships with all members, and work toward actively supporting other team members to build relationships
  • Keep commitments and admit mistakes or failures when they occur but in as sensitive a manner as possible to ensure that nobody feels they are losing face

It is also critical to be sensitive to any action or behavior that can be perceived as biased or culturally insensitive. The perception of unbalanced treatment of some team members could cause them to react negatively, and that reduces engagement levels, meaning they may withhold effort and creativity – whether consciously or not.

When all team members feel respected and included in the group’s work, productivity and efficiency will go up, to everyone’s benefit.

Jan Goedvolk