Adsum Insights Blog


Virtual Teams: Handling the Sudden Shift

leadership: developing others/building teams

As the joke goes, it is not the fall that kills you.  It's the sudden stop.

Hundreds of thousands of virtual teams have formed, almost overnight.

From a team effectiveness standpoint, the key challenge is not the management of a virtual team...organizations have had virtual teams forever. It is the sudden shift from F2F to virtual that can be disorienting.

Make no mistake: if a team that wasn't working virtually before wants to be effective, it has  do a conscious reset.

Leaders need different strategies, including different approaches to teamwork, after they get knocked off their feet than they had when the fight was going their way.

I use the Rocket Model for my team effectiveness work. It was developed and validated by my colleague and friend Gordon Curphy and Robert Hogan (yes, that Hogan). There are eight dimensions to the model: Context, Mission, Talent, Norms, Buy-in, Resources, Constructive Conflict, Results.

The sudden shift to virtual teaming requires a re-calibration on almost all of these eight dimensions, but I want to highlight the three I think are the most important.

Mission & Results: In a lock-down, the whole purpose of the team might have changed. Outbound efforts might be on hold, whereas there is a sudden increase in the inbound demand for one of your products or services.

Leader questions: What is the team's new mission for the next few months? Has the way we keep score changed and do success metrics need to be redefined so the team knows what winning looks like?

Talent, in particular Roles and Responsibilities:  Events are being canceled, campaigns are being stopped. How should all the resources that were being poured into them be refocused?

Leader questions:  Has everyone redone and shared their 60-day priorities? Is everyone clear on what they now can and can’t count on each other for? Has the DACI (decision making process) changed?  Clear agreements…who is going to do what by when…are always important, but never more so than during a reset like this.

Norms: I think the first two are the most important for the ongoing effectiveness of the team, but this third one, norms, might be what has the team most disoriented. We all have a groove of one kind or another, a certain way of working: we get used to certain ways to communicate and connect, certain turnaround expectations on requests, certain times we get our second (or fifth) cup of coffee, a certain rhythm of meetings. We lost our grooves and, like Stella, we need to get our groove back. That involves redefining norms.

Leader questions: When will we meet? What turnaround times are expected? Did you have a norm for being on time and what is it now? What communication channels will we use for what? What business working hours will we each be keeping given juggling the demands of kids at home? Is it now OK to call and if so when?


As Mike Tyson famously quipped, “Everyone has a strategy, until they get hit in the mouth.”  What he didn’t say, but what is becoming obvious, is that leaders need different strategies, including different approaches to teamwork, after they get knocked off their feet than they had when the fight was going their way.