Creating virtual teams is not challenge-free. Why? Imagine trying to communicate effectively with people you have never met and whose personalities you are not familiar with. If this hurdle is not overcome, establishing successful virtual teams can be extremely frustrating.

Why still pursue it? Harnessing the power of technology to connect with business units scattered across the country or around the world can result in dramatic increases in efficiency as well as significantly reduced costs

Harness the Power of Differences
You’ve heard it before, each individual is unique. Ponder the implications to virtual team success. Each of us brings strengths and challenges to the table. Understand and appreciate the uniqueness of others, yet, don’t fall into the trap of believing everyone thinks the same as you do.

You’ve probably heard of the DiSC system before. The DiSC system looks at how we tend to behave and what motivates us in a given situation by breaking behaviors into four categories corresponding to the letters D, I, S and C.

Knowing how to recognize a particular behavioral type, realizing that you want and need this person on your team, understanding the challenges they will introduce and how to manage them for success will now be discussed.

The Challenging One
In DiSC “The Challenging One” is the Dominance Style – represented by the letter “D”. A “ D” likes to have control and can be very opinionated. They tend to decide what the team is going and do and how they are going to do it. They are inclined to be very direct, which means they do not mince words and you will always let you know exactly where they (and you) stand. D’s thrive on change and are often risk-takers. They can become very impatient with people who try to slow down their progress.

The D’s can energize a virtual team, whether virtual or collocated. They are extremely task oriented and have high personal standards. They can be counted on to get things done with quality results. Their direct and forceful approach can inspire others when they recognize the value and contributions offered by others. Being task oriented is a characteristic that is highly valued in virtual teams, but only after good relationships and trust is established.

A “D” can also exhaust a virtual team. They can be very forceful and tend to take over. This can be particularly difficult for a team since a “D” might want to do it their way instead of getting buy-in from the team. This can cause resentment among less vocal members who may be naturally shy or reticent when it comes to expressing opinions. Body language (a natural indicator of how one is responding to another’s suggestions) also looses impact in a virtual team situation, making it even harder to determine a team member’s buy-in level A “D” not only has high standards of themselves they have equally high standards of other people. This can be challenging and stressful for some people. Because a “D” is very direct and may sometime lack tact, they may appear blunt and uncaring.

“D” also stands for “direct,” which you must be when working with this type of person. When you work with a “D” be very direct. Pleasantries tend to get in their way; they just want the bottom line. Depending on the group’s ethnic mix, this can have negative repercussions (Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans, for example, see pleasantries as an essential part of doing business. When giving them information be sure to focus in on the relevant facts of the task at hand. Give them autonomy to do the work; it is not necessary to tell them how to do it. Just let them know what needs to get done. Keep in mind that when a “D” is under stress they tend to become more autocratic and bossy.

The Social Butterfly
In DiSC “The Social Butterfly” is the Influence Style – represented by the letter “I”. These individuals are extremely friendly, positive and enthusiastic. Other people may see them as outgoing or extroverted. They are very communicative and they love to network with everyone. They are your team builders and motivators.
“I”s are naturals at pulling teams together and building and maintaining team spirit. They are the morale builders and motivators on your team and are full of ideas and very creative.

People who are a high “I” can have difficulty following through on tasks and tend to be less detailed oriented. “I”s have a need to be part of a group, so if the team is virtual, or they are required to do solitary work, they may have difficulty. Also, “I”s are very trusting, so they may be unrealistic in appraising people.

Since an “I” is not particularly detailed oriented, you may want them to team up with someone who loves details. The “I” enjoys socializing but needs to realize not everyone likes to “schmooze.” Give them an opportunity to socialize with you before moving onto business. In fact, it has been proven that the most successful virtual teams are those which have either had the opportunity to meet face to face or which have established the human touch prior to focusing on work. Utilize your “I” to build team spirit. Also, an "I" needs to feel appreciated, so let them know how they are doing. When "I"s are under stress they may oversell themselves and guard themselves against rejection and disapproval.

The Trusted One
In DiSC “The Trusted One” is the Steadiness Style – represented by the letter “S”. An “S” is ready and willing to help. You can always count on them to support the team through loyalty and cooperation. An “S” would rather let others have their way than to start an argument; they don’t like conflict or radical change. They will support change if they understand why it is necessary. Unlike an “I”, an “S” does not like to be the center of attention, they may also take longer to warm up to people.

An “S” will rarely let you down, making them invaluable “team players.” They are patient and supportive and they create balance and harmony on the team. They are also the mediators on your virtual team. They will be the ones who provide praise and encouragement to the rest of your team. An “S” will move cautiously especially when it has to do with change. Some people may view it as being stubborn or inflexible when in fact it’s because you tend to see the risks.
Because an “S” tends to see the potential risks they may tend to move more cautiously which can slow down the team. They also prefer a predictable environment with minimal conflict or change. An “S” may agree to things just to avoid conflict or they may choose not express their ideas because they do not like to “rock the boat.” As well, being in a virtual environment can be more difficult for an “S” because of the need to be more flexible.

Since change is something that an “S” finds disconcerting, make sure they know why the change is necessary and how it will impact them and the team. Encourage them to ask questions and try to answer them all. Whenever possible provide an environment that is predictable. When “S”s are under stress they may withdraw, become more inflexible or acquiesce.

The Analyzer
In DiSC “The Analyzer” is the Conscientiousness Style – represented by the letter “C”. A “C” is very demanding on themselves and others. They are sticklers for details and would rather do things right than do things fast. They prefer a reserved business-like atmosphere without a lot of mandatory socializing. A”C” follows protocols and expects others to follow suit.

A “C” has the reputation for producing high quality work. If detailed-oriented work is required give it to a “C”; they excel in making sure things get done correctly and you can be assured that they will follow through on their commitments.

A “C” expects everyone to have the same high standards as they do. This can be intimidating for some or appreciated by others. Also, because they demand high quality work from themselves, it tends to take them a longer to complete their work.
They prefer to work alone which can be particularly difficult if they are part of a team. Since a team can only function when an open information sharing model is in effect, it is crucial that a “C” – who generally prefers to work alone – be actively kept in the loop.

Let a “C” know your expectations prior to giving them a task. Incomplete instructions are difficult for a “C” to work with. Not only do they need to know what your expectations are but the standards you expect from them. “C”s tend to get bogged down with details so it’s critical to let them know when a task needs to be completed. When “C”s are under stress they may become more demanding and indecisive.

The key to communicating is not only understanding our behavioral style but, learning to adapt our style to others on the team. This is even more critical to do this when the team is virtual.

At first it may not be easy to detect each member’s personality type. However, making the effort to do so – even by using a simple survey – then tailoring your style to interact based on their personality type and preferred method of behavior can spell the difference between a powerful virtual team or a virtual disaster.

Author's Bio: 

As the driving force behind the training/consulting firm of Virtual Team Builders, Claire Sookman brings to the table over a decade’s worth of corporate training experience, working with well over 3,500 Project Managers in the past four years alone Specializing in virtual team building and communication strategies, Claire's company provides training, consulting, facilitation, and design using a unique, targeted approach that has helped her clients increase the productivity and efficiency of project teams. Her personalized, focused seminars have garnered numerous accolades, putting her services in high demand throughout the World. Some of her clients include: AT&T, Weyerhaeuser, Sabre, TD/Canada Trust, Siemen's, Manulife Financial, Orange-FT, Hospital for Sick Kids and Com Dev.

In addition to acting as a consultant and trainer, Claire has participated in a range of public speaking conferences including: Project World, Human Resource Professional Association and McMaster’s World Congress. In addition, Claire’s articles have been published in CIO magazine, Computer World, Network World, PMI Community Post and in the Training Report.
Principal-Claire Sookman
Phone: (416) 398-5160
Toronto, ON

Would it be helpful if you had a tool to clarify what your virtual team needs to be more effective and profitable? Claire Sookman has a virtual tool which will take your team 90 seconds to fill out and it will help you discover the top 3 challenges your teams are facing. E-mail Claire Sookman with tool in the subject line at