The Invisible Man: Virtual Teams and The Speakerphone Experience

Global Teams almost always have a virtual presence dictated by geographic distance, time and cultural differences. One casualty to what should be a powerful and aligned team is what I think of as The Invisible Man (or Woman) syndrome. Who is this Invisible Man?

Think about the conference calls you have with your teams. This is often a weekly or bimonthly call that is difficult enough to do within a country (say inside the US or the Americas with 4 or 5 time zones), but incredibly more complicated in a fully global company where time differences of up to 12-14 hours are commonplace.

The constraints are as follows:

 Time: A US to China, India, or Japan call always happens at night for one of the parties. How clear and focused are you at that time? How often do you see people who are dragging into work the next day, having been on a call from 10pm to 1am? Or the opposite in which people are on at 4-5am? This is not easy to do over time, but it is more and more commonplace.

 Technology: As a visual person, I am not at my best on conference calls. Telepresence and Skype work well when available within countries or say, between the US and Europe. But the usual technologies are conference calls, often with several of the team in a room together and a couple of folks calling in from a remote location.

 Culture: With apologies to any stereotyping or simplicity, US and European-centric team members operate with a different (not better) intensity than many of their Asian counterparts. Language differences are often part of this, but cultural propensities around how one enters a conversation, waits to be invited to speak, handles disagreement, or deals with the internal dynamics of teams all play a part.

Thus the Casualty of the Invisible Man. Have you ever forgotten that there is someone else in the conversation, just not in the room? Do you make allowances to ensure that they are deliberately brought into the dialogue? Do you vary meeting times to ensure that it is not midnight their time most of the time? Do you ask them the kinds of questions that are critical or informative to a team decision? Oftentimes, someone who is on the call, but quiet, is perceived as not being fully engaged, and that is a casualty to the team.

Virtual Teams are difficult to manage. It is even harder to operate as a Virtual Global Team. How do you get better? How do you continually move in the direction of improvement – to be a Top Team that is desirous of getting the best of individual and collective viewpoints, and the engagement of all the smart people both in, and not in, the room.

One suggestion is to periodically survey the team to ask what is working and what is not. This pulls a point of view from everyone who is asked to work in an aligned team. We use the Global Top Team Assessment (GT2A) to see just how well a Global and Virtual Team is working, and where to leverage improvement. For more information, please contact us.

Leave a Comment