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Author: Claire Sookman

5 Steps to Being a Trustworthy Virtual Team Leader!

As a virtual project manager, you have probably come across this question an innumerable amount of times: Do you trust your project group? This question presents a valid concern, but what is equally, if not more important is the other side of this question: Does your virtual project group trust you?

By being a project manager in a faceless workplace, building trust is arguably the most significant part of a successful team. Think of trust as a pivotal block in a game of Tumbling Towers. As soon as this single piece becomes loose, the entire structure falls apart. Don’t let your team dynamic suffer at the cost of a single loose block. Here are 6 tips that will help your virtual group see you as a trustworthy project manager.

  1. Be true – Like the old adage says, “Mean what you say, say what you mean”. Being true to your group is the first step to ensuring their trust. It may sound simple, but it is also the most important. In certain situations, you may make promises with the full intention of keeping them. However, there is always a possibility that new circumstances may develop, where old promises are no longer feasible. What do you do?

    In such situations, it is essential to communicate your problem to your team and detail what you are doing to fix it. Note that the verb used here is “doing”—and not the word “trying”. “Doing” and “Trying” are vastly different. “Trying” is a safe, passive word that can excuse you from your responsibilities. “Doing” is affirmative and confident word. It is a no-nonsense word that means you are taking action. When the group sees you acting, they will begin to trust you. So don’t try: Do. Do and be true.

  2. Don’t keep secrets—In other words: COMMUNICATE! Communicate your feelings, communicate you thoughts, communicate your actions, communicate your trust. The more transparent you are as a project manager, the more transparent your group members will be with you. Communication with co-workers should also exceed work related discussions. If your group considers you as a comrade, the trust will follow automatically.
  3. Keep secrets—This is not to contradict the previous point. In this context, “keeping secrets” means to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of group members. If a team member confides in you, your duty should be to keep the information private. Be aware of what you say, as certain information can easily slip out to others involuntarily.
  4. Be approachable—As an approachable project manager, you automatically allow your team to open up to you. Group members will voluntarily give you feedback on work related issues and possibly personal issues as well. Your team will realize you are a reliable source of support, advice and overall mentorship.
  5. Don’t be suspicious –There’s nothing more irritating than an overbearing parent looming over your shoulders while you work. Scratch that…there is: An overbearing co-worker. What you may call an “hourly status report” translates to “I’ve got my eye on you” for the rest of the group. If your virtual employee has agreed to have a certain task completed by noon, take this or her word for it. 

In the situation where the work is not in by noon, don’t assume the team member has slacked off. Instead, ask if he or she needs any additional support or they need a bit more clarification. Also consider if the employee is experiencing any personal trouble at home or other external discrepancies. 

Be present to your project group, not persistent. Give support, but also give space. Think of how trust functions in your workplace. Remember, it may be a small word, but it has a big meaning–and perhaps a bigger meaning in virtual project groups. 

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

The Best Virtual Meeting… EVER! 5 Fun Games to Engage Your Virtual Project Group!

Do you ever have those days when go you off on philosophical tangents? You know, those cold, gloomy mornings when you stare out the window, coffee mug in hand, wondering, “Does a fish know what water is?”, “Is the colour red really universal?” or “Is Robert from marketing a real person?”

We’ve all been there. The truth is it’s hard for virtual project groups to bond on a personal level with other group members…partly (well, mostly) because we may not even know what the other person looks like! Without bonding, the results could be dangerous. The University of California, San Francisco, lists some of the common symptoms of a disengaged team:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Conflicts or hostility among staff members
  • Confusion about assignments, missed signals and unclear relationships
  • Decisions misunderstood or not carried through properly
  • Apathy and lack of involvement

And there’s more:

  • Lack of initiation, imagination, innovation; routine actions taken for solving complex problems
  • Complaints of discrimination or favouritism
  • Ineffective staff meetings, low participation, minimally effective decisions
  • Negative reactions to the manager
  • Complaints about quality of service

And there’s still more! A 2009 article from the Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that a lack of team spirit can even cause employee depression…But don’t panic!

Before you scurry off to Google, furiously searching “how to engage virtual project groups” — take a breath. We’ve done the work for you. Here are some innovative games that are sure to have your team amused and engaged in no time.

1) Virtual Charades – Charades is a great game that builds group spirit, whether in a traditional workplace or a virtual one. If your company usually sets up video conferences for meetings, this is definitely a game that will have everyone working together, solving problems and having fun along the way. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, Charades requires the player to mime or imitate a certain action or subject that the rest of the team has to figure out. For more information on how to play, click here .

For those who use voice chat instead of video chat, there’s a fun alternative for you too — Voice Charades. For Voice Charades, create a secret list of objects, animals or famous people. To decide who will go first, enter all team member names onto a site such as and choose the first name that shows up. Email or send an individual/private instant message to this team member letting them know what they will be acting out. Remember to keep the clues work-appropriate and respectful of others. Have fun guessing what/who the person is imitating. Some entertaining suggestions are:

  • Printer sound
  • Al Pacino impersonation
  • Star Wars Light saber
  • Monday traffic
  • Radio anchorman

2) Spin a Tale – This fun game fosters creativity and helps team members think on their feet. During a meeting, make up the first line of a story. Then ask team members to take turns and add each subsequent line until a whole plot develops! Let the story go along on its own path and deviations. This is the fun part of the game; you never know what perils or fortunes can occur next! The best thing is, even though your team may develop favourite start tags, the story will never end up the same! In other words, you learn how to think innovatively. Here are some ways you can start your tale:

  • I woke up at 9am — that was when we were supposed to Skype in for the meeting…
  • Jared looked over the ledge of his balcony, wondering why the crowd had gathered…
  • The email had no subject line…I hate it when he does that…
  • Fifteen years, 15 days, 15 hours and finally the letter had come…
  • As Sophia hid behind the red SUV in the parking lot, she tried to remember how exactly she had gotten there…and why there was that giant scar on her arm…

3) Situation Puzzles Situation puzzles are an exciting way to exercise creative problem-solving skills while also building team unity. In a situation puzzle, the team leader states one mysterious sentence such as, “a bell rings, a man dies, a bell rings”.* The rest of the team must now solve the situation by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. As each question unearths new information, the team can creatively build on each other’s thought patterns and ideas until all the loose ends are tied. A great reservoir of situation puzzles can be found here!   *(Click here for the answer)

4) PowerPoint Game  You will never look at PowerPoint presentations in the same light after this game! This is a great way to get group members thinking on their feet while having loads of fun. To play the PowerPoint game, go online and find a series of complicated or extremely nonsensical PowerPoint presentations (try SlideShare). Then ask team members to improvise a presentation with the slides they’re using. Hilarity is bound to ensue! Go here for more information about the PowerPoint game.

5) 2-Minute LOL  This is another improvisation game that will get everyone thinking fast, learning about team members and literally laughing out loud. First, divide the team into smaller groups or partners. Then give each group a topic or let them choose one. Allow each team about five to ten minutes to create a set of jokes based on their topic. Make sure they have this discussion in a separate virtual conversation so that the rest of the team does not hear the punch lines beforehand. When everyone regroups, randomly choose a group to go first while timing their comedy improvisation for two minutes. Once again, remember to keep all jokes respectful and workplace-appropriate. Award the funniest team with a gift card or some other form of prize!

And there you have it — five amazing ways to engage your virtual project group! Try them out and let us know which game your team liked the best! And if five tips aren’t enough, here’s a whole book full of tipsAcross the Hall, Around the World is the ultimate archive of virtual team-building tips that’s sure to get your team engaged!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Claire Sookman is the driving force behind Virtual Team Builders, Claire brings to the table over a decade’s worth of corporate and public sector training experience, working with over 4,500 managers in the past three years. Specializing in virtual team building and communication strategies, Virtual Team Builders provides training that enables global teams to work more efficiently.

Tension at the Workplace: Gen X vs. Gen Y

To all project managers, quick! Pop Quiz!

a)      Did LOL ever mean “lots of love” to you?
b)      Do you remember a time before (or during) the Walkman?
c)       Was there ever a point in your life when perming was all the rage?
d)      In your heart, will Pluto always be a planet?

You probably realized by now this isn’t a real quiz. Nor is it a sadistic exercise to make you feel old. But what it should do is show that times have changed—and the workforce has changed with it. As each passing year increasingly necessitates cross-generational interaction, there is bound to be some cultural clashes along the way.

 The Princeton dictionary defines culture as “the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization”. In this light, working with someone from a different culture doesn’t always mean working with someone of a different nationality. Cultural differences can boil down to your age.

This might explain why so much tension arises between the Baby Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y cultural groups. That’s right…cultural groups. Each of these generations respects a unique set of values and ideologies. These ideals can begin to conflict if not clearly communicated and understood within the team. So when cross-generational frustrations emerge at the workplace—ask yourself: Is this an issue of cross-cultural miscommunication?

Cross-cultural miscommunication between generations can occur almost automatically. Why wouldn’t it? It is very easy to assume that a co-worker who shares commonalities in language, nationality or education may also share similar outlooks in relation to work ethics, ideas of job satisfaction, motivational incentives and so on. But this is not the case.

For instance, while Generation X workers may find satisfaction in job stability, career growth and financial gain, Generation Y workers often find value in a proper work-life balance and the overall emotional fulfillment of the work. To put it crudely: if it ain’t fun, it ain’t done.

But don’t get it wrong. Generation Y workers will work hard—except their approach to work is what differs from previous generations. A Generation Y worker may even leave a job if it does not offer flexible or negotiable hours. The logic being: why work 8 to 9 hours a day if the work can be successfully delivered by noon? Such thinking patterns should not be interpreted, rather mis-interpreted, as lazy or self-centred by co-workers and leaders from previous generations. It’s just different.

Different isn’t bad. It is important for project managers to recognize the great potential Generation Y workers can bring to the workplace. The Gen Y worker’s love of technology, social media, remote working and willingness to prioritize work over salary (as long as the work is fulfilling) makes him or her an ideal candidate for the virtual work environment. However, if a project manager’s mindset still dwells in past managerial styles and expectation, it is possible that such talented people could slip right through the company’s fingers (and perhaps, land right into the hands of another, more flexible organization).

To understand and adapt to the new workforce, the most important aspect is to be open. Try to understand the worker as a person—as an individual. Perhaps the Gen Y team member wants to take an extended amount of time off, to travel the world, do charity work, or spend time with his or her aging parents. A project manager willing to adapt to such requests will not only augment trust, but also enrich the work experience for the employee, to make it exactly that…an experience, and not just “work”. In return, the Gen Y worker may start to adapt to certain traditional managerial styles out of mutual respect. At the end of the day, tasks are completed and both sides of the team are happy.

So as Bob Dylan would say (a name familiar across all generations!), “Times they are a Changing”…and perhaps our outlooks in the workplace should as well!

Don’t forget to add your comments below.

Claire Sookman is the driving force behind Virtual Team Builders, Claire brings to the table over a decade’s worth of corporate and public sector training experience, working with over 4,500 managers in the past three years. Specializing in virtual team building and communication strategies, Virtual Team Builders provides training that enables global teams to work more efficiently.