Due to the lack of personal interaction in virtual teams, it is more difficult to assess the personal situation and the social context of the other team members. This article shows some impulses how virtual teams can become more resilient in their teamwork.
What is resilience and where does it help?
Resilience means psychosocial resistance, the ability to successfully cope with unexpected, surprising, or particularly difficult life events. In other words: to be strong and flexible. Resilience also contributes to better mental health, higher job and career satisfaction, greater ties to the company, a higher level of work engagement, and greater openness to change in companies (Hartmann et al., 2020 1). However, resilience does not only affect individuals but is also found in teams and organizations. How does resilience in teams emerge? The more positive interactions there are in a group, the better the resilience of the group. This strengthens cohesion and satisfaction in the group.
Challenges for virtual teams
Due to the lack of personal interaction in virtual teams, it is more difficult to assess the personal situation (e.g., has financial difficulties) and the social context of the other team members (e.g., has to care for three children in the home office). For example, if a team member is not well prepared for a meeting, a reproach quickly arises: “He’s lazy.” In addition, building relationships and noticing and interpreting important stimuli in the virtual world is much more challenging. Is my workmate frowning because he contests what I have recently said? Or does he have trouble with technology? Is the colleague sick or does she just look very pale on the screen? The more complex the team’s work becomes, the more challenges can occur on the way to the goal, such as time pressure or overload, or acute problems such as a problem with a supplier or a conflict with another team member. If the difficult conditions of virtual work are added, it can severely affect team performance and collaboration.
What distinguishes resilient virtual teams?
Degbey and Einola 2 surveyed several virtual teams and observed how they deal with challenges. They assume that daily interaction with each other is crucial for building team resilience, similar to a muscle that is growing with each training session. Only a part of the teams studied had become resilient. But these teams managed to adapt dynamically to challenges such as misunderstandings, major problems with technology, and performance or time pressure.
Degbey and Einola 2 explained this as follows: If an event occurs, a search for the causes and an interpretation of the situation is automatically carried out. This automatism helps us to make sense of ambiguous situations and is crucial for the next steps a team is taking. Depending on how these steps are designed in the team, they strengthen or weaken the flexibility and resilience of teams. Successful teams are characterized by:
- Self-reflective practices
- The active regulation of emotions
- Practices to involve the team in finding solutions and handling tasks
These teams built resilience from within and were better prepared for challenges. They initiated a positive cycle of building resilience and sustained excellence and successfully managed project by project in a turbulent environment with changing tasks, shorter deadlines, and time pressure. Less resilient teams experienced exactly the reverse process: a vicious cycle. Situations were misinterpreted and not reflected on, and negative emotions were expressed, which often led to even more tensions in the team which complicated the joint search for solutions.
This is what people in virtual teams can do
- Exercise mindfulness: Only when you are mindful you will notice where someone might need support – or where maybe not.
- Train your perception: What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Etc.
- Keep a diary: What was important today? What did you do well? What could you have done better?
- Pay attention to the needs of others: Ask how your colleagues are doing and whether you can do something for them.
- Do you have an unpleasant thought? Write it down. Reflect: Does your thought correspond 100% to reality? Or will it 100% surely happen in the future? Write down the result. Does the thought benefit you? Does it have advantages? And what are the disadvantages? Write the result down as well. What thought would be more appropriate because it is more realistic or helpful to you? Write down this thought and take it with you into everyday life.
Regulation of emotions
- Instead of “letting it out”, take a deep breath. Take some distance from yourself. Observe and name the feeling. What thoughts swirl in your head? Consider them as well with a little distance, without evaluating them, without wanting to change them, but also without wanting to get into them. If you feel an unpleasant feeling, choose to perceive it completely. Be mindful. Don’t push it away. Usually, it disappears after 60 to 90 seconds.
- Practice relaxation methods: breathing techniques, meditation, PMR, autogenous training, etc.
Team inclusion practices
- Offer your help and support. If you get offered help and need it, accept the offer and don’t reject it out of false pride.
- Build trust: You gain trust by being open and showing the other who you are and what you stand for. Share your strengths, but also your weaknesses.
- Trust others: Send them a signal that you believe in their abilities and rely on them.
- Actively ask for the opinion of others and involve the whole team – even the people who are rather passive.
- Celebrate successes in the team.
- Value and recognize the achievements of others.
- If you are happy or grateful for a colleague, let him or her know.
- Be open. Go into exchanges with others and also accept different opinions.
- Set common rules for teamwork.