Best Practices for Virtual DEI Teams: Communication for Success

Virtual teams are a one of the 21st century's greatest tools in the workplace. Virtual teams

can connect folks across time zones, geographic location and allow for greater

collaboration to increase effectiveness. The key aspect of a successful virtual team is communication. Healthy interpersonal communication increases 1) trust, 2) commitment to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team or task force, and 3) facilitates knowledge sharing – all things that are needed for a prosperous team.


Communication builds relationships, and those relationships are the bridge between shared expertise and increased performance. DEI teams need to critically consider how they can facilitate a foundation of trust so that they can reach their goals and make an impact at their workplace to make it a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.

Build Communication Expectations

Communication expectations are essentially the patterns of interpersonal contact through which information is shared among members of your taskforce. Relationships, and our social interactions, dictate formal and informal communication that leads to sharing information, knowledge. Without having face-to-face interactions, communication needs to be structured and intentionally influenced. Below are some data-driven ways to level up your virtual team in their borderless office.


"Communication builds trust and collaboration; We need both for virtual DEI teams to be successful." - Kelsie

Across science on virtual teams, trust is critical for communication and knowledge sharing. Teams should start by building trust and reducing possible mistrust.
  • Make your team more than “just a face on a screen”: Meeting with cameras on is critical in the first few team meetings. You don't want your team members to see each other as faceless entities. After orientation, there can be flexibility to turn cameras off to reduce 'zoom fatigue'.

  • If possible, meet face-to-face for a kick-off, or to celebrate your team's wins!

  • Utilize team building do activities that involve sharing information about members (e.g., "What makes you feel like your authentic self at work?"), sharing personal interest in the council ("Tell us why you wanted to join the DEI group?"), related previous experiences.

  • Consider using live working time, where multiple team members are working at the same time during a conference call. This can provide a borderless office and more organic coordination experience.

Formal expectations with accountability (i.e., someone in charge of leading communication, holding others accountable) will increase the likelihood of success.
  • Select a clear medium(s): Formally, how will members communicate? Do you want to use email, or other platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams).

  • Consider expectations around response times (e.g., do you want to set a 48 hour response expectation?). Talk about personal preferences and what may work best for the group.

  • How and when will information be shared with key stakeholders? Talk with your stakeholders to clarify if they want a regular cadence of messages or meeting notes sent to your senior leaders

  • Decide as a group how you can hold others accountable for meeting expectations within the team.

  • A leader of communication is an important factor for virtual team success. Who can synthesize information from meetings and share with others?

  • How will your team differentiate between an urgent needs and a non-urgent needs in their communications?


Those in formal leadership [or those with informal influence] on the virtual team need to encourage a climate for cooperation, and reduce competitiveness within the team. Cooperation and working together as a team are key elements of productivity.
  • To encourage a climate for cooperation, consider the member time zones (where the live) and work time (when they are working).

  • Team members should be encouraged to share information, without fearing the repercussions of sharing vulnerable information.

  • Leaders should role model how to have respectful discussions or debates about team processes, model how to share best practices with others and provide coaching to members who may have less experience or lower self-efficacy.

  • Leaders and those with power should ensure that everyone is comfortable with the technology used and norms around that technology.

Creating a clear and informative charter will help virtual teams set a foundation for communication and improve their communication efficiency.
  • Building a charter could involve clarifying your team's vision, mission and goals, and the roles on the team.

  • Ensure that all members’ voices are heard in charter decision-making

  • Make sure roles are clear, and boundaries are set around specific goals

 

Kelsie Colley, M.S. is an organizational consultant at Mattingly Solutions and also a I/O PhD candidate at Colorado State University. Learn more about and connect with her here.