Trust can be considered the cornerstone of effective teamwork or group activities. However, for team operations to proceed smoothly without complications, norms must be established within the group. Norms are usually the undocumented guidelines that dictate how people should behave or carry themselves in a group. Norms usually develop with time as group members spend more time together during their daily operations. Due to short production cycles, content expertise, and other organizational constraints, the need for virtual teams has become increasingly high. This creation of virtual teams makes the development of trust and group norms much harder given the obvious complication of different locations. The justification of this paper is to discuss various communication and task norms that can be established to enhance trust and performance of virtual teams.
Communication norms generally dictate how information is distributed and shared within the group. As such, communication norms can be divided further into four categories, namely: availability norms, which establish at what intervals group members should avail themselves. Appropriateness and use of collaboration tools determine the tools that should be used in communication along with the purpose of their use. The exchange norms to establish who should receive certain information so as to prevent complications like information overload. Finally, structural norms, which dictate whether the communication channels used should be formal or informal.
Meetings should start and end on time
It is clear that the most significant challenge in virtual teams is about the location because it is possible that different team members will be located in different time zones. The group leader should carefully assess the different time zones and come up with an agreeable time for everybody. In spite of careful planning, it might not be possible to set a convenient time for everybody and others might find the time set to coincide with their nighttime. Team members should understand this and the team leader should make sure that the inconvenience does not always affect the same group of people (Settle-Murphy, 2012). The meeting should always start and end on time, even if there are members who become late for the meeting. The late members should be liable, and they should find a means to catch up on their own. Effective time keeping will eventually build trust since the team members are confident that their time will not be wasted. Everybody will strive to be on time to ensure that his or her workmate is not inconvenienced.
Emails are used to inform and alert, versus to share documents
This requires all members to learn how to use the e-mails effectively, when to use them, and the purpose for using them. Given the nature of virtual teams, there should be a universal mode of communication, and this includes deciding on a common tool for various tasks. It would be ineffective if each member used their means; for instance, drop box while team members expect e-mails. Besides, this makes it easier to access all the shared information in one portal (Settle-Murphy, 2012).
“To” and “Cc” are used in email lists with intention
It should be clearly understood by all group members what it means to be on the “to” or “Cc” list. Members on the “to” list should read the message and take action on it while members on the “cc” list may choose to read the content or not. In fact, the aspect is important to prevent information overload and finger pointing when a task is not accomplished. When everybody tackles what is required of him or her, group members build trust with each other by having the confidence that fellow members will do what is required of them (Settle-Murphy, 2012).
Scheduled meetings should be via teleconferencing
Team members should agree on the official means of communications. Formal meetings involving all members of the team should be conveyed in one agreed channel. However, team members should be free to use other informal channels like phone calls and random emails to reach specific members of the team for clarification or just catching up. Formal language should also be used in scheduled meetings while members may be allowed to be more casual in one-on-one interactions as this further builds trust (Settle-Murphy, 2012).
Everyone to participate fully in meetings
Group members should fully concentrate on meeting proceedings. When it is time to listen everybody stays quiet so as not to create noise disturbances. People should not try to multitask while on the session. Additionally, every team member should participate and share when called upon. The feeling that everybody is committed to the task at hand and sharing freely creates a form of bonding which enhances trust (Settle-Murphy, 2012
Task and work norms, on the other hand, dictate how group work and organized and monitored. Process norms establish the “lifecycle” of the project. Task norms guide the team on routine and non-routine work. In addition, the accountability norms establish the period when deliverables should be presented and the consequences for failing to do so. Resource norms outline how team members work with shared resources.
Everybody should give an outline of the work to the team leader
To ensure coordination of processes, the team leader should be aware of what each team member is working on. Besides, this also helps in assigning more tasks since the team leader has insight on how long each member’s task should take (Karten, 2003).
All templates should be kept in the routine folder
Some tasks usually require repetition. Indeed, to help save time, a common folder containing forms, templates for the routine work should be shared and members are given access to them. Indeed, this is effective in that there will be a common format for all routine activities done by different members. In fact, the aspect of time-saving will be achieved compared to when each member decides to work on his or her different routine task (Mattison, 2011).
Weekly work sheets will be delivered every Friday
For every team member to be accountable, norms such as the one mentioned above should be put in place. In this aspect, the team members will be more vigilant in their work since they are aware that they have to reach a defined level of accomplishment regarding their productivity. Therefore, consequences should be established for those who fail to meet the agreed deadlines (Karten, 2003).
Access to resources will be done through a certain member of the group
All shared resources should be managed at a common location and preferably by a single individual. This initiative sorts out issues of security, updates, and storage since one individual is held responsible. In fact, when everybody has the access to all shared materials, some materials may be deleted or compromised, making it almost impossible to point out the culprit (Mattison, 2011).
Timelines should be met promptly
It should be worth noting in everybody’s mind that deadlines are crucial in project management. One unfulfilled task may be holding back the whole team preventing them from proceeding to the next stage. Timelines should, however, be set realistically to ensure quality work. In fact, strict timelines give a lot of pressure that may hamper the employees’ productivity (Karten, 2003).
Creating and supporting trust within virtual teams is filled with complexity, yet it is critical to the effective project completion. Open indicators like reputation, role, and rules combined with an individual’s perception of trust determine the how initial trust is established. Cognitive trust emerges later after team members assess each other’s integrity and abilities. Later, full trust is determined by continued assessment of integrity and benevolence. In virtual groups, patterns of communication and the reward plan affect how communication is deciphered and how the determinants of trust are evaluated (Greenberg, Greenberg, & Lederer, 2007).
ACTION PLAN FOR VIRTUAL TEAMS
OBJECTIVE: To develop and enforce task and communication norms in virtual teams
FOR THIS TO BE ACHIEVED:
Step 1. Every member of the team should be notified of the plan.
Step 2. Every member of the team will contribute one communication and one task norm.
Step 3. Every member will share one consequence of failing to conform to the set norms
Step 4. All suggestions will be combined and made available to fellow team members.
Step 5. Members will discuss and agree on the set norms.
1 day for each successive step
CHALLENGES LIKELY TO PRESENT THEMSELVES AND HOW THEY WILL BE SOLVED
Some members of the team might not agree to conform to the set norms given the diverse and different cultures of the team members. In such an occurrence, the team members will consider the situation and agree on what makes everybody comfortable.
As is evident from the above discussion, it is clear that the virtual environment is filled with uncertainty. In the case of email notification, an individual may be left wondering whether the others have read the messages, if not, why they have not completed the task and any other complication they might be facing. These uncertainties hinder the development of trust and challenge the longevity of virtual teams. Communication and task norms come in to try to bridge this gap. They govern how individuals behave in the virtual environment and by doing so they build each other’s trust. As members of the team learn each other’s personality and preferences, the team gradually adapts and adjusts to become a better regarding the requirements needed to finish the project. Trust builds over time and helps in the successful completion of team projects. Therefore, it is critical how communication, task, and other norms are implemented as these small indicators are what virtual team members will use in establishing each other’s trust.