A couple of years ago, my team and I had a virtual meeting with a client to review a course we had designed. Two people on the client’s team had spent many hours with an instructional designer working through a solid design process.  The others had not.

At the review meeting which was conducted by phone, one of the people who had not been involved with the instructional design commandeered the discussion and proceeded to take the design apart, pointing out why she thought various elements were not important or not to her liking. She dominated the conversation which was frustrating to everyone involved. Meanwhile we were receiving text messages in the background from the other members of the team apologizing for what was happening.

It was clear the new team member didn’t understand her role, the work that had already been put into the project, or even why she was asked to the meeting in the first place. Without being able to see the faces of other teammembers, because no one was on camera, she just went on a tirade, literally tearing apart the course and insulting all the people who done the work to this point.

When she finally ran out of steam, her coworkers thanked her for her input and the call ended.

If you examine the underlying causes of conflict in this example, four stand out:

  1. Failure to clarify roles and responsibilities
  2. Lack of perspective or project history
  3. Personality or style
  4. The inability to see each other over web cameras to read facial expressions and body language.

While 3 of these factors might have occurred in a regular team setting, this fourth cause is unique to virtual environments.  What forward thinking organizations are beginning to recognize is that the use of web cameras makes it possible to read non-verbal messages and avoid some of these project stalling disconnnects. Opening the channels of visual communication has the potential to minimize ambiguity, clarify communication, and reduce conflict.

If you’d like to learn more about how to manage virtual teams, join us at our next one-hour, complimentary webinar, Virtual Leadership: Calibrate, Collaborate, and Celebrate, Thursday, November 16th at 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT. Click here to register.

Cynthia Clay is the President/CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions (locally based in Seattle Washington) and the author of Great Webinars: How to Create Interactive Learning that is Captivating, Informative, and Fun! as well as Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships. Her company helps people increase their effectiveness in virtual environments.

This program has been submitted to HRCI to be pre-approved for 1 HR (General)  HRCI recertification credit hour.



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