11 November 2019
How to build and lead high-performance virtual and multicultural team?
How to build and lead high-performance virtual and multicultural team?

This post summarises the main points of my speach at PMI Poland Chapter Szczecin Branch Conference held on 11-12 Oct 2019.

Globalisation is a fact and whether you like it or not, today’s workplace is not longer defined by its bricks and mortar walls. Managing global teams is both challenging and interesting. Although most of us agree that having a globally dispersed team makes sense, but in order to work together well a few conditions need to be made.

A lot of organisations still simply follow the same guidelines and best practices they use for co-located teams and hope for the best. And find out it does not work. Face-to-face teams and virtual teams are the proverbial “ apples and oranges” situation.

A high-performing virtul team

To achieve our goal  –  a high-performing team, we need to overcome a lot of challenges, which can be divided into two groups: givens (distance, time, technology) and created (culture, trust and leadership) .

Organisations need to leverage the givens through effective development of cultural and interpersonal competences. Technology is just one piece of a bigger puzzle and is less important that the techniques virtual teams have developed to interact, such as communication and group norms, appropriate virtual team leadership styles and structures, regularly schedule meetings and occasional face-to-face meetings (Gorelich, 2000). Awareness of cultural differences and connections, development of trust and leadership capabilities are crucial in order to build high performing teams.


A culture can be defined as a shared set of values, believes and norms and to change it takes time. Our cultural differences run deep.

Do not assume the sameness – what is normal for you might not be normal for others. We are all different! The way a team functions is often directly related to the organisation, but challenges in teams can also come about as a result of national cultural differences. There are regional, generational, departmental, functional, organizational plus cultural differences, which increase with virtual world as more boundaries need to be crossed. Additional to these a team creates its own culture.

What’s collaboration?

The interaction of team members in such way to develop positive synergy where the team’s performance is greater than the sum of individual’s performances.  Getting to know a person and team (cultural) is critical to collaboration and breakthrough thinking.

Achieving each of these characteristics of collaboration takes sustained commitment on the part of team:

  • Ownership of shared goals – this does not happen without intentional and effortful communication among members.
  • Relationship with a purpose. We are all in this together for a good reason!
  • A commitment to one another’s success rather than a singular focus on taking care of oneself at the expense of others. Commitment to one another’s success is a function not only of familiarity, but also awareness among team members that “another’s success in my success.

The TAO of Virtual Team Functioning

Organisations need to be aware that results can be only achieved by through process of relationship building among all stakeholders.

Emotional bandwidth is the personal and sustainable connection created among virtual team members who work together for a common purpose towards a goal. It reflects increased organizational commitment. The more people know and feel connected to one another (wider emotional bandwidth), the greater the commitment to the work is.

Source: Adapted from “The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams”

Mind Shifts:

  • work is people-centric not place-centric
  • connecting through networks is the process of work
  • Commitment beyond “doing my job”

Path1: Create a Cohesive Team Culture

Collaboration is more than communication. Effective communication is a tool for working collaboratively and building a high-performing team. In fact, research has shown that effective teams often communicate less than other teams because they have developed a shared understanding.

Path2: Support the Team Community

Path3: Produce Successful Outcomes

While team maintenance and support matter, mission accomplishment is still the goal. The trust developed within the team is fragile, and even more so in a virtual team if not reinforced by performance that can be seen. Milestones and joint achievements provide fuel to stay focused on mission accomplishment and the oil to lubricate trust.

Success begins with clear and shared purpose, a vision how that purpose look like when accomplished, and identified outcomes to accomplish that purpose. An effective team achieves concrete, complete results. More structure and planning is required. Emergency gatherings and on-the-fly planning should be only an exception rather than a rule because chaos and frustration will result. If everybody starts with the same vision and work plan, then virtual team members are more inclined to progress collectively. Command-and-control management models do not work in a distributed work team environment. Micromanagement will always add work and slow down the team production!

A high level of collaboration

The result of having strong relationships, trust, and shared understanding among the team members is a high level of collaboration.


Trust is important for every cooperation, but even more critical when working virtually. For virtual teams, trust is even more difficult to build. And without trust, I don’t think a virtual team can survive. Communication, particularly meaningful dialogue among members, may be the most effective tool that organisations can rely on to build trust in virtual teams (Holton, 2001).


Seeing a big picture helps to become more accountable. Similar to developing trust communication is a key tool in developing a shared understanding. We might read the same text and have different understanding, so “elevator speech” of the objectives/goals/benefits might help.

DEPTH OF RELATIONSHIPS – getting know one another.

Challenge: lack of personal interaction, face-to-face time is critical!

Sharing personal information that is interesting and relevant to others creates a feeling of being connected. Relationships are based on reputation or familiarity. Working virtually requires trust and to trust we need to know one another.

Mixing the ingredients together

Trust and a shared understanding develop through frequent and meaningful interaction. Comfort level is established (atmosphere of openness and trust) – people feel secure in sharing insights & concerns. Developing trust and shared understanding requires reach relationships.

The amount of trust and the amount of shared understanding team members experience are closely related. When team members develop a shared understanding of their roles and what they expect to contribute based on their expertise, as well as assume responsibility for following through on commitments, trust is likely to increase as well. Deeper relationships with team members may lead to increased levels of collaboration by making it easier to trust or form a shared understanding in relation to the team’s goals.

Virtual Team Set up 

Before Launch: Forming a Virtual Team

The Launch Stage: Hold a Great KickOff Meeting

After the Launch: Monitor and Assess Team Performance

What makes an effective virtual team leader?

  1. Ability to Effectively Manage Change

Step1: Envisioning change. Communicate in a way that’s understandable, meaningful and inspiring. Communicate personal confidence that the vision can be achieved.

Step2: Building Support for Change. Use reflective and empathetic style, rather than an authoritative one. Encourage people to make the arguments for change themselves. This self-persuasive dialogue is called “change talk”. Discuss the urgent need for change, create a broad coalition of supporters, identify likely opponents and reasons for their resistance, take actions to deal with resistance.

Step3: Implementing Change (involve others in making decisions, fill key positions with competent change agents, help adjust to and cope with the change, celebrate success, keep informed of the progress and ensure they demonstrate continued commitment to the change.

2. Ability to Foster Atmosphere of Collaboration (build trust and relations). Support collaboration by finding ways to interact and communicate informally.  Handle conflict effectively – leaders must proactively look for signs of it and take steps to resolve in a timely manner. Keep in mind that trust can mean different things to different generations, cultures and individuals. Focus on moving from task-based trust to interpersonal trust by communicating openly and honestly, leading by example, employing consistent team interactions and being accessible and responsive. Check with the team members who might feel isolated and believe they lack of support.

3. Ability to Communicate Team Goals and Direction. Clearly communicated, shared goals are especially crucial for virtual teams. Put in process in place to set and reset the priorities. Revisit goals periodically. Invite key stakeholders to v-meetings to discuss how the team’s work impacts the organizational strategy.

4. Strong Interpersonal Communication Skills. It’s no secret that team members who work virtually sometimes feel isolated and find it more difficult to tap into the office grapevine. The feeling of isolation can negatively impact morale and productivity. Therefore, the most effective leaders establish informal and formal communication methods to ensure that people have the information they need to do their jobs and feel “plugged in” and engaged.

5. Ability to Empower Team Members. Delegate work, give freedom to make decisions and to monitor work. Encourage team members to come up with creative ideas – the way to motivate and encourage process improvement. Need process to monitor to avoid micromanagement.

Thank you very much to all volunteers of PMI Szczecin Branch for the great event and wish you only high-performance global teams.

Related articles and recordings:

Polish: Komunikacja ponad granicami.

English: Speed of Trust – a Must to Read.

Polish: Zaufanie fundamentem współpracy w zespole.

Polish: Live z liderką: Jak odnaleźć się w zmianie? 

Polish: Live z liderką: Sztuka przewodzenia – wirtualny zespół

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