Tips of Effective Communication
Managing virtual team is one of the biggest challenges for today’s project manager. Keeping the entire team on the same page, motivated for the project work and vision is a very difficult task when you are dealing with a virtual team. In this article, I am limiting myself to the communication aspect of virtual team management.
Whether you work with a virtual team or a physical team, you have to work with different kinds of people who are part of the team. To appreciate the complexity of managing any team let us understand various challenges or virtues which individual human can have.
- You may have noted some people can communicate in multiple languages fluently and others struggle even with one language.
- There are some who are extremely good at speaking, others are good at writing and some others are good at comprehending.
- Some people have eyes problem, some have listening problems.
- Some cannot sit more than 15 min in one place
- Some cannot read long texts
- Some cannot listen and concentrate more than 15 min.
- Some cannot type more, others cannot write longer.
These are the different physical and psychological challenges/blocks which human has. When you are working on a project with a virtual team that is spread across the globe in different time zone and with these different capabilities/ incapabilities in that case it becomes important for a project manager to understand different variables of the communication system and how to manage them. Availability of the people, cost of the communication, frequency of communication are other variables that make the task of managing a virtual team more difficult.
To manage a virtual team what are the variables, processes, and options available at our disposal need to be understood thoroughly. Let us see them one by one.
What Communication Technologies are Available?
- Instant Messenger
- Chatting tool
- Voice Mail
- Video Conference
- Handwritten mail
- Physical Meetings
- Collaboration website
What Communication Tools are Available?
- Microsoft Outlook
What are the Possible Communication Methods?
What are the Possible Team Types?
- Virtual Team
- Co-located Team
- Mixed Team
What are Other Important Things Regarding Communication
- Urgency of messages
- Privacy of messages
- Details required
- Distance to
- Need of feedback
- Size of audience
- Need for a human connection cost
- Need for collaboration
Etiquette of communication in virtual team
- If you want to leave out from the call then it is worth saying something like this and then goes out “I am really enjoying the chat, however, I have to go”. Never go out without letting the other parties know that you are going, or you didn’t like discussion so you left.
Conference Call tip
- Introduce yourself. eg. “Hey this is Hari, who just joined the call. Good morning everybody”
- If you could not listen to the conversation on the conference call consider saying something like “I am sorry, I was distracted, could you please repeat the question (last sentence)”
- When people are joining a conference call and you are host then ask people “about the weather, traffic, the location from where they are calling, who else is on the call, ask about their family, any off the track things”. Let them feel comfortable so that they can contribute effectively.
- It is rude to ask. e.g. “who is on the call?”. Consider “who have joined recently?”. Even to speak this be polite.
- Record the meeting
- Recap before finish
- Consider having 2 dedicated roles for meeting one presenter, second administrator. An administrator should be responsible for MoM, Infrastructure, Invitees joins, Meeting agenda is followed.
- If you are behind or ahead on the slide then share the slide number, which you are referring to. Before you start meeting share the presentation with slide number on every page.
- To ask for feedback say “Does anybody has anything to add.” Then wait for some time. You can do it by saying it like “Raj do you have anything to add” (ask individually). Silence becomes unbearable and people will speak out something.
- If somebody joined in mid and you want to ask him some questions, send him a brief of the conversation my instant message and ask for feedback.
- Ask if things are not clear or unambiguous
How to Use Collaborative Space
- Avoid using e-mail for things you could do in the collaborative
- Remove the ability to delete content from the collaboration site. If permission is disabled then don’t show it.
- Use the collaboration side to publish the status report and send message to the relevant stakeholders
- Never surprise people by giving them information once in a blue moon day. Keep updating them from time to time.
- A picture speaks thousands of words. Words have their own limitation and picture has lot many interpretations. So strike a balance to ensure the message is understood properly and then retained.
- Don’t send presentations around without you going there. Go with presentation
How to Manage a client
- Stay in constant touch
- Be accessible
- Reassure Communicate status immediately
- Cultivate the relation
- Be confident
- No surprise ever.
- They need to know that you genuinely care about them Listen carefully when people are saying
- Make people comfortable, be gracious
- Learn about them. Possibly go and meet them face to face.
- Be sensitive to the problem which is not visible to you
- Need to work hard to show commitment.
How to bring Virtual Team member on board
- Develop a team charter in collaboration with the team
- Talk to them one to one.
- Let them read the team charter.
- Introduce that person to other team members.
- Let him feel comfortable to talk and discuss.
How to tackle people who do not respond
- First, send him/her an email.
- If he/she does not respond then call them on all possible phones which you have with you.
- If there is no reply then send them an offline message.
- Finally, if no reply from them then send them a registered letter.
Rules of email
- If possible avoid attaching files. Therefore put the information in the main body directly. It is not true for large content or versioned document.
- For email also follow the rule of real mail (physical letters). Do not use it as a messenger or IM tool.
- Understand the rule of To, CC & BCC
- Write a structured email, make a point using bullets
- Use fonts type, font size, underline, bold, color to emphasize important content
- Always keep disclaimer at the bottom
- Always keep signature at the last of your message
- Always write greetings and salutation
- Never press send button if you have not reviewed content, meaning, spelling and message.
- Never press send button if you are in a really bad mood.
- Mostly you will find that bad news is better than no news in communications. So do not remain silent for long if there is no progress or bad news.
- Never write and send an email in bad mood. They are documentary evidence!
- Balance the use of messenger and email. Do not write an email if messenger can serve the purpose
No communication is one problem and over communication is another problem. Over-communication kills lots of productive time which can be used for constructive project work. Another problem of over-communication is justification because of the slip of the tongue. In the absence of communication, people assume much more than they assume when regular communication is in place. Many times these assumptions are invalid and lead to wrong decisions or delay decisions. Thinking I am a senior so junior must initiate the communication is an equally good argument as people think I am junior and senior may be busy so they should initiate communication when they are free or when they need. There is no end to these kinds of arguments. Therefore to manage the project team successfully it important that we exploit the technologies properly and at the right level.