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Teamwork today: Virtually connected

Originally published by CIO magazine (German only)

Virtual teamwork is gaining momentum. However, most team development concepts still depend on a physical presence. Here’s is how digital networking succeeds.

 Mediative team development helps remote teams overcome distance.
Mediative team development helps remote teams overcome distance.

Remote work came to stay. While it is not a new trend, remote work was accelerated by the corona pandemic. This was also confirmed by the IDC study "Work Transformation in Germany 2021". Almost 80 percent of the questioned decision-makers from 250 German companies across all industries plan to adapt their workplace models. 36 percent of these turn to hybrid working models, a mixture of face-to-face and remote work. 11 percent would like to eliminate their office space entirely and work completely virtual. However, the growing virtual working models are not the only factors leading to digital teamwork. For teams scattered across locations, countries, or time zones, this is already standard.

Virtual stumbling blocks

Collaborating only via meeting platforms also puts a spoke in your wheel, weakening performance and team spirit. To date, team development was a proven method to support teams during challenging times and help them reach their full potential. Therefore, previous concepts for team development were created for a collaboration in presence, which is no longer sufficient today. The new status quo requires both, face-to-face and online formats. This is where mediative team development comes into play.

Mediative team development

Mediative team development combines proven methods of team development and strategic conflict resolution - i.e. mediation. It is about refining conflict competence and other skills that are essential for smooth teamwork. With this approach, teams can overcome obstacles such as inefficient virtual communication, lack of team spirit or insufficient cooperation between different teams. The full potential of their performance can then be unlocked.

The main difference to traditional team development, which is based on Tuckman's model of team development, is that the team is in the driver's seat. Conventional team development offers are usually like expert consulting. In simplified terms, a non-team expert is hired to give advice, support making decisions and solve problems.

The mediative approach, on the contrary, puts the team in the role of an expert. Who knows better what the team needs than the team itself? In mediative team development, the team is in the driver seat and the mediator guides it along the way.

Mediative team development - how it works

The mediative team development according to Waas L. (2017) is based on a 5-step iterative-dialogical procedure:

1. Order clarification

2. Individual interviews

3. Reflection workshop

4. Topic-specific workshops

5. Conclusion

In the first step, the order framework is defined with the client. The mediator then collects data by interviewing the participants using a standardized questionnaire. Afterwards, the collected data is reflected to the participants anonymously within a reflection workshop. Based on the shared data, the team, thus, gains insights into the topics pressing on the minds of the individual team members, which determines the next steps. The mediator accompanies the team in the following topic-specific workshops with four central aspects:

1. Me in the system: e.g. expand self-competence

2. Me and you in the system: e.g. expand social competence

3. We – the whole team in the system: e.g. optimize communication and collaboration within the team

5. The team in the organization: e.g. optimize interaction with other teams/departments

Every topic-specific workshop ends with concrete measures, tested by the teams until the next workshop, afterwards reflected on and readjusted if necessary. This iterative approach supports teams to act faster and thus achieve their goal faster. This is how mediative team development, according to Waas, sets short-term impulses for change and enables long-term top performance.

How teams benefit

Both, classic and mediative team development, have proven themselves as presence formats over the years. So far, the choice between the two has only been a matter of personal preferences. Due to the higher level of awareness, usually the classical approach won. However, this could change in a digital economy, as mediative team development offers remote teams numerous advantages:

1. Virtual mindset: The belief that "virtual is good, presence is better" persists in many teams - for a good reason. In online meetings, cameras are often turned off, most of the time the screen is shared, or you are more concerned with navigating digital collaboration platforms than following the discussion. This creates distance. Considering that remote teams spend most of their time in virtual space, this distance often leads to listlessness, as people mourn the good old days. Mediative team development can help to rekindle the motivation and passion in the team. Moreover, it helps to bring appreciation, empowerment and connection into daily collaboration.

2. Faster to your goal:

One of the biggest challenges in team development often turns out to be everyone’s busy schedule. Finding a suitable time often becomes a challenge and causes months of delays. A critical project, a go-live and then the start of the holiday season. A virtual format is more flexible for the team and thus receives the support needed to move forward more quickly.

3. Practical implementation:

Improving online collaboration in a face-to-face workshop often ends in quite theoretical discussions and solutions. As soon as the team is back in their working routine, the transfer causes difficulties and the team can experience setbacks. Giving feedback can even be a balancing act in personal conversations. In virtual space, however, with reduced body language or even without a camera, it becomes a minefield. Virtual team development analyzes the difficulties under real conditions and helps to solve them. In addition, the digital communication and collaboration skills of those involved are improving.

4. Reduce costs: Team development often fails because of costs, especially with globally distributed teams. Expenses for travel to and from the event as well as accommodations are often a high-cost factor that is eliminated in virtual team development. This can facilitate access to team development.

5. Creating equal opportunities: Teams that work closely with the customer or on projects with high management attention are often having a hard time. There is usually little chance for team development, because the more business-critical the tasks, the less likely the opportunity. Whether in release management or in roll-out - the absence of team members rarely meets with understanding among customers. Today, the mediative, virtual team development runs behind the scenes, according to the motto: "Nobody left behind". This way, even business-critical teams receive the appreciation and encouragement they deserve to perform at their best.

Mediative team development prepares teams for a digital working environment. Who doesn't want to be part of a forward-thinking company that wants to create a community for their employees – whether offline or online?


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