Motivating team members in a traditional workplace is a challenge in itself so you would imagine motivating team members in a virtual work space would be a lot harder.
Virtual Teams, MMORPGs, and Leadership – How They All Tie Up
I’ve read an article which relates how playing video games, MMORPGs in particular, can promote and build leadership skills that can benefit virtual teams. See it here. By the way, MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. To speak in layman terms, most games in this genre involve someone stepping up to be a leader of a guild or a faction composed usually of people who do not know each other from different parts of the world to perform a task which could be raiding an enemy camp, defeating an overly powerful enemy (which cannot be done alone), or defeating an opposing guild. Whatever the goal is, leadership and teamwork is important. Kind of like the same set up for virtual teams. This article details exactly what I mean: http://www.forbes.com/2010/07/19/career-leadership-strategy-technology-videogames.html
I like to excel in everything that I do. If I don’t excel I’d rather not do it at all actually and that includes my video games. I’ve had experience in leading a guild and a raid and I can say that guilds in MMORPGs are very similar to virtual teams. The leader decides which people he wants to recruit. The leader also decides who to promote to assume positions and responsibilities in the guild. He delegates tasks so that the guild can accomplish its set goals.
I was a gamer before I became a team leader and I do believe that the people management and resource management skills that I gained from playing video games, MMORPGs in particular, allowed me to become an effective leader.
My Approach in the Traditional Office Setting
Looking back, I was team leader in a traditional office before I worked with a virtual team. And as team leader, one of your main goals is to keep the team in high spirits so they keep performing well. During this time, instead of becoming the bossy type who just keeps giving out orders and shouts at every mistake, I reached out to my team. To begin with, I never was the kind of person who would shout at someone. I listen to the team’s concerns which I then communicate with upper management. I hang out with my team after work to get dinner or a beer. We chip in so we can order pizza during afternoon breaks. I even organize other out of office activities like paintball and bowling. In fact, my team had a reputation of being the tightest team in the entire department. Not only that, my team consistently and overly exceeded our monthly performance goals. My approach may not be the best approach but it’s the approach that worked for me.
At some point, management decided to provide pizza for the team that does the best for the entire month. The other teams stepped up their game but we still emerged victorious!
Nothing better than free pizza. Except maybe free bacon but you can get bacon on a pizza, so…
However, I think the danger in this approach is that your team members may treat you too lightly. You must be able to balance the professionalism and make sure that the team understands that it is not okay to fool around with work. When it’s play time, it’s play time. When it’s work, it’s serious work.
How I Approach the Virtual Team
In a virtual team, you make do with email communication, chat, and phone – no actual verbal communication. Limited communication can make building rapport a problem. Without good rapport, teamwork is hardly possible. Can you imagine working on an important project with someone who you do not know, much less trust?
As you may have guessed, the approach that I used in the traditional setting would not work in a virtual team so I have to improvise. Currently, what I try to do is to hold weekly Skype meetings initially to discuss work but later develop into greeting the team and asking how they are doing. At some point, I will ask if they have any concerns about work or anything. I found that this works to a great degree although I haven’t been able to do the meetings on a regular basis (which I know I should).
It is a good thing that there isn’t much of a time difference between Australia and the Philippines because we can hold meetings at a time that is usually convenient for everyone. Still, the lack of direct verbal communication can lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes, tasks can lead to undesired outcomes. The solution here is to define clear goals for each project and communicating this properly with the team. Creating clear project and task briefs is also invaluable.
The team that we have now is a good one although I think we can improve on our interpersonal communication. I will continue to strive for ways to achieve the same kind of relationship in the current team which could come in a future blog post.
One thing that still bothers me though is how we can get pizza and beer for the team. If you know how that could be done in the virtual team, let me know by all means! Also, share how you motivate your virtual team in the comments section.