Because of the diversity of ideas and perspectives, virtual teams are the ideal forum to gather best practices and implement changes across geographical and organizational boundaries. Unfortunately, time zone challenges and large group meetings with little time for involvement mean most virtual teams do not live up to their potential.
How do you as a virtual team leader balance the need for team member involvement with the need to accomplish results in a timely manner? You create the right team structure to efficiently leverage diversity of thought. Instead of inviting everyone to every meeting, organize your team for the right level of involvement at the right time.
How to Tell if Your Core Team is Too Big
Wondering if your current team is too big? Here are a few telltale signs:
- if you have trouble scheduling meetings;
- if getting everyone’s input is too time consuming; or
- if only a few members of your virtual team are speaking up in meetings;
… your virtual team is too big!
Generally speaking, the most effective virtual teams are not the largest. Because the dynamics of virtual teams are more complex than those of face-to-face teams, efficiency actually requires fewer team members and different support structures.
Use a 3-Tier Model
An ideal structure leverages large-group diversity while a using a small group to speed decision making and action. Individuals participate in levels of teamwork (Core—Extended—Advisory) based on the criticality of the subject, the responsibility level of the individual for the results, and the authority to make progress.
Core Team: The ideal virtual team consists of three to five people—the right amount to accomplish results efficiently. These individuals compose the Core Team, where decisions are made and each person has a high level of involvement and accountability.
Extended Teams: Individuals in Extended Teams offer expertise as needed, provide valuable input to decisions, and help on task-specific sub-teams. Instead of spending hours in team meetings, Extended Team members stay aware and connected to the work of the team, doing their work on sub-teams and staying in touch as needed depending on the relevance of the task at hand.
Advisory Team members are still important, but less involved. They may be asked to share expertise, to assist with a sub-team project in a short term way, or to be used as sponsors and sounding boards to test ideas.
If your team is not accomplishing the results you need, consider whether your team size or structure are barriers to your success. A 3-tier virtual team structure leverages diversity while accomplishing results faster and more efficiently. And nothing keeps energy and enthusiasm higher than being on a team that accomplishes results.
When it comes to virtual teams, small is beautiful!
About the author
Carmela Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world.