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Establishing Norms on Virtual Teams

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  • 0:04 Managing Virtual Teams
  • 0:49 The Five-Sentence Rule
  • 1:40 The Five-Minute Rule
  • 2:44 The 80/20 Rule
  • 3:19 Timely Communication
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha is currently an Information Technology Specialist and a EdD student at the University of Delaware.

Do you have team members that consistently miss deadlines and ramble on at meetings? This lesson discusses norms you can establish to promote productive meetings and communication strategies for your virtual teams.

Managing Virtual Teams

Tara, who is working remotely, submitted her project at 9:00 A.M. on a Tuesday morning. The project was due at 5:00 P.M. the previous day. Her project manager Olivia wasn't exactly happy with the late submission. This also wasn't the first time, and Tara has been warned before.

Virtual teams consist of team members working from different geographical locations and communicating through email, video conferencing, and other technologies. This situation with Tara is just one example of what can possibly go wrong when working with virtual teams. Olivia decided that this was the time to set up norms and best practices so that something like this doesn't happen in the future. She considered implementing a number of best practices across her teams.

The Five-Sentence Rule

One of the first norms that Olivia decided to implement is the five-sentence rule. Tara said she was receiving a number of emails that took her a long time to respond to, which made her miss critical messages. The five-sentence rule means that emails should be no longer than five sentences and adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. The email should answer 5 questions: (a) Who is the sender? (b) What does the sender want? (c) Why is the email sent to the recipient? (d) Why should the person receiving the email respond? (e) What's the action they need to take?
  2. Don't include unnecessary details. Remove unwanted information. Read through to see if the recipient will be able to quickly comprehend the gist of the email. Keep the message focused and to the point so that the recipient will be encouraged to respond quickly.

The Five-Minute Rule

Olivia organizes virtual meetings using audio/video conferencing that allows her to discuss project goals and provides the opportunity for team members who never see each other face to face to keep up to date with what each person is working on. Many times, one of the team members, Matt, will start talking, and others join in. Before they know it, the meeting has run to over an hour but with no real focus.

In order to organize and streamline future meetings, Olivia decides to implement the five-minute rule. This means they would have more frequent weekly meetings instead of meeting every other week, but each meeting would be limited to a maximum of five minutes. The team members would need to be well prepared, and each person would be given about 15-30 seconds to talk. The time to talk would be focused on updates to the project and how others may be impacted.

When this was implemented at the next meeting, Olivia was happy with the results. Matt got to the point when he said ''I finished the report and emailed it to Deb for review.'' Deb followed up with ''I'll have the review complete by Tuesday.'' The meeting was proving to be much more productive.

The 80/20 Rule

Olivia realized that while the weekly five-minute meetings were productive, the team also needed more time to discuss important topics, like making suggestions or exchanging ideas for the best possible approach. Every month the team would meet virtually for an hour-long meeting, but they would follow the 80/20 rule.

This meant that the meetings would be 80% active and 20% passive, so Ann, for example, would have to streamline her presentation to be no more than 10-12 minutes. For the remainder of the time, Olivia could get the team engaged in active participation for the next big project the team is going to be working on.

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