Overcoming barriers to successful virtual communication

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 01:34


Why has communication become more complicated even though we can meet virtually to discuss our projects?

Having teams and partners in different locations and getting things done on time and within budget is tricky to say the least. With increasing globalization the challenge of communicating with team members (coming from different cultures and organizations) has become much more complex.  Diversity and inclusion are being actively promoted. Emailing and having a telephone conference in a foreign language with other non-native speakers adds yet another layer of complexity. All of these elements make it essential not only to communicate effectively when using digital media, but also to understand team dynamics. If not, the result is often misunderstanding, frustration, cost overruns and unhappy customers.

How can you recognize that communication might be a contributing element to poor results? 

Does your international team see the virtual meeting as a chat or relationship-building event or are they interested in quickly reaching a decision. Even if you reach agreement in the meeting are the tasks completed in the agreed manner? Do the native speakers use idioms and speak so fast that you have no time to gather your thoughts and an entirely different understanding of the situation is the result. Or are frequent interruptions and sidetracking taking up valuable time?

Maybe the challenges are technical?

We also communicate non-verbally so body language and other visual cues are often lost when emailing or telephoning. You may never even see your partners so building trust is crucial for success. Are different time zones a cause for a drop in productivity and frustration? Does your team have a fall-back plan if the technology malfunctions or connections are poor? These are further factors to be taken into consideration when meeting virtually.

How can you get your team to work together effectively despite their different approaches? 

Here are a few suggestions that may help you to support your teams develop the necessary competencies:

  • Before any major project begins it is important to establish a collaborative team environment based on trust and awareness. For example, increasing personal visibility in a virtual space supports identity creation, which is necessary if you rarely get to meet someone in the flesh.
  • Develop strategies and ways to confirm understanding of how to operate in a complex cross-cultural virtual environment and define techniques to support such understanding. A code of conduct can serve as a guideline. Preparation and debriefing play important roles too.
  • On the technical side there is a difference between being collocated (side-by-side) and operating in virtual space. This makes leadership in a virtual team a question of knowing how to convince others, especially if you aren’t the boss. It is also important to review which digital media tools can contribute to making meetings highly interactive. And, it is a good idea to discuss which five ways a team can be dysfunctional in order to counteract such behavior early on.

Finally, it is important that the team reflects and gathers experience about how these factors influence project success. Trust before task is the cornerstone of virtual leadership.

Please find more information on Leading Virtual Teams at:  www.language-consulting.com/training/leading-virtual-teams
and discover more about the advantages of a virtual leadership training.

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