Effective Teams – working virtually

There are a lot of articles written on what makes a team effective. Most agree on these five elements.

  1. Clarity of goals
  2. Emotional Intelligence
  3. Effectiveness
  4. Development
  5. Culture

With more individuals now working from home, they now provide a great way to reflect on whether the team are still working effectively. Do you need to adapt some of your working practises for a virtual world.


  • Clarity of goals

Great teams have clarity around the goals of the organisation, and also on the role everyone plays.

In uncertain times there is generally a greater focus on short term goals and operational delivery. The response of an effective team is to develop flexibility between longer term goals and operational delivery. The team embrace ambiguity considering different scenarios and looking for common themes to explore possibilities or priorities. In so doing, it allows goals to be adapted as more information becomes available. 

But, this adaptability can bring challenges around the clarity of goals. why not try segmenting the outputs, for example:   

  • Priorities  – things that are tangible, have an immediate need and can be applied in the context of this change.
  • Resource – things which are relatively clear but require more work or careful planning. Further investigation or planning will often mitigate a future issue.
  • Pause  – things we thought about but can not apply to this change or do not have a ‘home’ yet. 
  • Risk – things that are much less clear, but raise questions about the future. These need to be managed accordingly to risk. 

Revisit and communicate goals regularly. Think about both the formal and informal tools you can use to communicate across the whole organisation.


  • Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is about the depth of the relationships, openness and awareness. It helps teams to trust each other. Teams with high emotional intelligence can recognise signs of stress in other members and those who are thriving. Complex and unpredictable environments can energise some people, making them more innovative and creative.

To develop good emotional intelligence across a team try some of the following:

  • Make time for the ‘chat’.  Talking about ‘stuff’ is particularly important in virtual teams as it replicates the informal nature of a ‘water cooler chat’. In offices this is where people get more information, ask questions and develop closer relationships.  
  • Start an online meeting with a 2 minute check in from each person. Include how people are feeling, and challenges outside work. Encourage everyone to listen, and also be heard.  Active listening and being heard are also vital to support well being.  
  • Honest and open conversations build trust & confidence across the team, so in a virtual world resolve any conflicts quickly. 

Don’t forget humour. It might not be an obvious factor, but having a giggle is healthy. Humour inspires trust and deepens relationships. 


  • Effectiveness

A great team will of course make sure work is achieved on time and within budget. They also recognise the value of diverse thinking and multiple sources of  information, and so create time to explore ideas and information from all members of the team. They also recognise effort. 

In co-located teams lots of informal conversations that go on between meetings, forging collaborations, team work and creativity. Creativity rarely thrives in isolation so try and embrace any opportunity to connect virtually or to develop new connections.  Try a coffee slot or wine o’clock times.


  • Development / Stretch

Working virtually you can still provide opportunities for personal development. Here are a few ways in which they do this.

  • Create diverse sub groups for projects
  • Encourage people to share training or development webinars. 
  • Talk through what you have learned working virtually to share ideas across the team.
  • Allocate new requirements to different team members as development opportunities

I might be repeating myself now, but if you want to learn from others, you need to make time for everyone to speak and be heard in meetings. 


  • Culture

 Culture is an outcome of many different  dynamics and it develops and shifts over time. So taking time to reflect on your unique organisation culture will build awareness, respect and appreciation of what enabling or perhaps now getting in the way of the team working effectively. Considering each dynamic and what  might need a bit of attention.

  • Stories – the past events that people talk about inside and outside the company. This usually says a great deal about what an organisation values. 
  • Rituals and Routines – the daily behaviour and actions of people in the organisation. They signal the acceptable behaviour and influence what happens in given situations going forward.
  • Symbols – visual representations of the company including logos, dress codes, offices. 
  • Organisational Structure –  This includes both the structure defined by the organisation chart, and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued. 
  • Control Systems – The ways the organisation is controlled or directed. They include financial systems, quality systems, performance systems and rewards. 

And finally, you might be asking why haven’t you included communication in this list. I have. Communication is the ‘golden thread’ which must run throughout all five elements.