The 6Cs of managing a virtual team


In the old-style Taylorized work environment, managers were able to cut up the work and distributed the tasks efficiently to team members who were close at hand and whose performance could be measured scientifically to ensure targets were reached.

These teams very, very real as they were most of the time organized in shifts, which meant that they arrived in the same place at the same time, worked the same period throughout the day and finished together. This unity of time, place and action allowed team members to build a team identity and culture which contributed to producing results, by generating a common bond, work identity and sense of one for all, all for one.

In today’s virtual workplace, where teams are no longer “real” but “virtual”, spread across different regional, national and/or international geographies and where work is more and more “intellectual”, this shared team culture is more and more difficult to build and results are obviously harder to guarantee.

Leaders leading such virtual teams have therefore to meet a greater challenge than their colleagues managing “real” or “on-site” teams because they can’t rely on the day-to-day routine of office or workshop life to build up the team identity and shared values which enhances effectiveness.

So what can leaders of virtual teams do to build this virtual team culture? How can they replace what mother nature has omitted?

In his book, “Where in the world is my team“, Terry Brake identifies 3 key risks that leaders of virtual teams must confront and help team members to confront:

1) Isolation: team members are not very often together and so therefore are more isolated than team members working in the same location/office;
2) Fragmentation: teams that are spread geographically are more at risk of becoming even more fragmented in their efforts because the distance will tend to increase over time and managers are there to put team members back on track imediately;
3) Confusion: teams spread geographically will be more at risk of confusion and chaos because the magnet that draws real teams together, the team identity born from shared experience, does not have the same force of attraction in virtual teams.

Isolation, fragmentation and confusion are the three key centrifugal forces which risk dislocating virtual teams.

Brake defines 6 forces of attraction which a virtual team leader must develop for and with his team. He calls these forces the 6Cs.

1) Cooperation: virtual teams must develop even stronger levels of trust in one another and in their leader than “real” teams;
2) Convergence: leaders of virtual teams must be even more coherent and rigorous in setting individual and team objectives to ensure greater convergence;
3) Coordination: leaders must invest more time and energy in coordinating efforts to ensure that distance doesn’t impede workflow;
4) Capability: virtual team leaders need to know their team members in more depth so that they know what skills they have in their team and how they can use them most effectively;
5) Communication: effectiveness depends on shared understanding of goals and expected outcomes and this means communicating more and more to ensure the message crosses all frontiers;
6) Cultural intelligence: virtual leaders have to develop a skill of getting outside their own culture, helping team members get out of their cultures to build a common team culture. A journey has to be made from I to you to we as a team.

Each of these attractors can be developed in specific pragmatic ways according to the environment and the team member profiles.

However, applying the 6 Cs to counter the effects of the 3 centrifugal forces of Isolation, Fragmentation and Confusion which risk dislocating your virtual team seems to be a powerful remedy.

Having said all this, when you think about it, whether you are the leader of a team sitting in the next room to you or the leader of a team spread across the globe, it’s only a question of degree. The forces pulling your team apart are the same. So “real” team leaders should remember to focus also on the 6Cs to ensure that they also help their teams to be more effective.

Check out Terry Brake’s presentation of his book

Terry Brake discusses \”Where in the world is my team?\”

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