The simulated coffee corner effect for virtual teams
When we, as the leader, start a new team, we like to do everything possible to make it a success and still an enjoyable experience. In order to enable a team to perform well high quality relations are important to enable high performance teams. Such relations are built on trust which is a very important factor especially when things do not work out as planned and the going gets tough. This is true for local and virtual teams. However, fostering relationships and trust in virtual teams is challenging.
In local teams a lot of the informal relationship development and maintenance happens through having lunch together or having a chat at the coffee machine or water cooler. None of this is possible for virtual teams.
Many years ago I have learned of a very neat approach from a manager at a large pharmaceutical company. He had to lead a virtual team over three years with no budget for travelling and meeting in person. His team was spread from Singapore to the east coast of North America. And when I asked him how he ensured that the relationships between the members and social cohesion in the team did develop and was maintained, he told me about a very simple, yet effective, activity he had introduced.
The virtual coffee corner
He simulated the experience of a chat at the coffee machine by introducing a virtual coffee corner. Every Friday the team had a 45 minute conference call which he called ‘meeting at the coffee corner’. There were only two rules for this informal meeting: no agenda existed and no decisions were taken.
The main focus of the conversations in these 45 minute calls were around family events, holidays and gossip in the local subsidiary.
He admitted that it took him a while before more than a couple of people showed up in the call. Two of the success factors he mentioned were:
- he role-modelled the behaviour he expected by talking about his holidays and gossiping
- he was persistent in the first few months and kept going, even when participation was low
- occasionally mentioning in the formal meetings that they had interesting gossips shared from the various sites
For him these meetings at the coffee corner was one of the success factors that helped the team to bond strongly, have more trust in each other and deal with conflict much easier by not taking it personally.
It really works!
Obviously, I was intrigued when I heard his story and I have tried it myself in various teams I’ve led since. It really works! Persistence may be a quality you need to have when you start introducing such a virtual coffee corner or water cooler, but it definitely pays off.
I wish you great success with the idea and please adjust it to the shape or form that fits your organisation.
This week’s offer:
If you want to explore this aspect further we are offering the first 10 leaders who register with us a FREE OF CHARGE 30 minutes individual consultation on how to best apply these tips in your own context.
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Join us online:
We explore this and other similar subjects in our Virtual Leaders Lounge. This is an informal online meeting of maximum 10 business leaders where we discuss challenges in virtual teams and organisations and share best practices. No PowerPoint is used!
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