Leadership consists of encouraging, mentoring, and facilitating others in the pursuit of a common goal or vision. The project manager and project leaders must create an environment in which members can understand, accept, and execute their responsibilities with confidence regardless of their location.
Project managers interact with many different people at many different levels. The matrix nature of the role doesnt lend itself to preordained leadership. The mantle of leadership is earned. In virtual projects, a project manager must be proactive and show by action that he or she is acting at all times in the best interest of the team. It is critical that the project manager and leaders do not isolate themselves in any way, and are available at all times to any member of the project team. Being on time or ahead of schedule with actual deliverables or any commitment that is made to the team by the project leadership will show by example the accountability expected of each team member.
Being able to have the vision to drive a project and team to a successful completion; the foresight and organization to head off problems that can jeopardize the project; taking accountability for all aspects of the project, and presenting the team in the best light or providing them opportunities to do it themselves; are all examples of strong day-to-day leadership that the virtual project manager and project leads must deliver.
Building trust between members of any team is a critical step in determining if that team will be successful. With traditional teams, trust is enhanced by being able to work and communicate face-to-face. Virtual team members generally cant see what their team mates are doing, but they can see the outcome. Trust generally is built with virtual teams based on ability, subject matter expertise, and most importantly the completion of commitments. Those commitments can be planned tasks or simply a promise from one team member to another to do something.
Those team members that meet or exceed their commitments earn the trust and respect of their team and their leadership. Consistency is the key with maintaining the trust with virtual teams. Each member must consistently meet or exceed the standard to respond in a timely fashion to all requests, complete their commitments as promised, and be willing to help others when needed.
Although the current economic environment may not allow for virtual teams to meet and thus build trust in a more traditional fashion it is possible to replicate some of what could be done and gain the same level of benefit using different techniques.
First, each local team should hold meetings or social gatherings to build a team bonding within a specific location. Project management should hold All Hands meeting so that the full team can hear and communicate as a single body. Create a project buddy so that team members are able to bond with other members who normally would not work together. These ideas and others promote socialization within the team which in turn will promote trust.