Author Archives Claire Sookman

Welcome 2017 by Thinking and Re-thinking

As another year comes to the fore, we are once again in that funny place that is both encouraging yet daunting, as we strive to understand how to best handle this vast, untouched span of 365 days that lay before us.
This New Year can bring greatness if you allow it; no matter the past, we now have the renewed chance of starting afresh, of clearing our mindsets that limit us, and of gaining greater clarity for the upcoming year. This process of starting afresh begins with learning about ourselves and how we work so that we may implement our positive learning experiences in meaningful ways in the New Year.
To ease into 2017, we suggest a short exercise that will hopefully challenge you to a bit of productive and honest introspection. Through Thinking and Re-Thinking, we prompt you to reflect on your past year, to positively acknowledge important insights you have gained thus far and to ultimately contemplate how the things you have learned will meaningfully impact and inform how you approach 2017.
Get a pen and notepad or open up your computer-let’s start!

Think About How You Did This Past Year

Before you move onto planning how you will handle 2017, assess this past year. Our past offers a gold mine of experience and expertise that can structure how we may go about and approach our future decisions. Ask yourself:
1)     Did I achieve my goals for 2016?
2)     What was one major challenge I and/or my virtual team handled well in 2016?
3)     What was one major team challenge that could have been handled in a better way if I were to     face it  again in the future?
4)     How did I measure the effectiveness of my virtual team in 2016?
5)     What did I do to build sustaining relationships with my virtual team to boost productivity?
Now think about what you will do differently this year.

Now Re-think About How Your Team Did This Past Year

Closely associated to Thinking is Rethinkingthat is, recognizing and doing away with our blind spots. We all possess some form of a blind spot. Similar to driving a car, where our rear-view-mirrors, headrests or even backseat passengers may obscure our vision, the clarity to properly navigate a virtual team may also become obscured when our blind spot clouds our judgement. 
Sometimes, these blind spots come in the form of assumptions. Our assumptions are blind spots because they lie beyond what we can identify and correct. These assumptions may be pre-conceived notions about how our virtual team is functioning. 
So, before you move onto planning how you will move towards greater success in 2017,  begin the

New Year by sitting down with your team and ask them these questions:

  1. What went well for you in 2016?
  2. What do you need more of in 2017?
  3. What do you need less of in 2017?
  4. What can I do to support your growth and development?
So as you move into 2017, spend some time to reflecting on your blind spots and checking in with your virtual team about what they need to succeed. 
By : Claire Sookman /January 01, 2017 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, CEO concerns, Motivating Your Virtual Team, Resiliency in a Virtual Environment, your Virtual Team /0 Comment Read More

Living in the Moment: Mindfulness in Virtual Teams

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

How often have you had lunch at your desk and could not remember what you ate, or if you even did eat? It is easy to become very focused upon your task at hand. This focus is often referred to as “being in the zone” or “in the flow.” When there is an imminent deadline for a team project and you are the one finalizing it, you’ll sometimes find yourself in that state.   Thus, these phrases have some positive value attached to them: productive, hard-working, energized.

Mindfulness and the CIO

However, when reality strikes, and the client calls, or emergencies arise, team members cannot be oblivious to the obvious: it is time to change tasks. As “being in the zone” might imply, hyperfocus can be good, but not always. The only place you have any impact is in the here and now. That cannot be achieved with your head down in the computer screen and your mind multi-tasking like crazy. Being present here and now in every interaction you have is a prerequisite for individual and Virtual Team success.

The buzzword often used is “mindfulness.” Rarely heard in management until recently, it is based upon Buddhist practices. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. “The outlook for CIOs, as they demonstrate mindful leadership, is excellent.” (J. Esser, Technology Forecast, 2013) Mindful leaders inspire mindful teams. Help your virtual team become more mindful right now.

Three Tips for Being More Mindful

Focus on teaching your virtual team members, and yourself, these three simple tips to help them be in the moment, not in the zone (or zoned out during an online meeting, not that you’ve ever done that…):

  • In the zone? Take a moment to notice what you’re doing and when and why you are doing it. Is this a stretch for you? Set a reminder in Outlook if you have to, but stop what you’re doing for even just a moment and come back to reality every hour. If you lose all track of time, you are probably hyperfocused. Take some time to simply be. Lunch time, for example.
  • Zoned out? This can happen, also. When you notice your mind wandering as the client (or your boss) drones on in that virtual meeting, do not become frustrated or judge yourself harshly, simply bring yourself back to the current task and move forward. Your thoughts are simply thoughts; you do not need to react to them, especially the negative ones.
  • Become aware. Notice where you tend to “zone in” or “zone out” too much. What are the activities? Practice bringing more awareness into them to achieve a balance. Do not take things so seriously that you cannot act on them without judging them. While emotions, good or bad, can be motivators for bursts of productivity, long term they do not serve you well.

Remember that these are just simple starter exercises in awareness. They are not immediate deep life changes, but in time they can be.. The more awareness and mindfulness you bring into your daily life, the more you can authentically connect. You can tell when the person you’re Skyping with isn’t paying attention, as you hear their keyboard keys click. Don’t be that person. You do not need to drag out a yoga mat and sit in the lotus position to start your day, although many successful executives do. To be mindful means simply to be more aware, however you can, of the present moment.

Three Benefits of Being Mindful in the Moment

There are three things you, and any virtual team member, can think about: the past, reliving things you messed up; the future, worrying about things you need to do later; and the present, what is happening right now. Barring using a time machine, the only place you can have an impact is in the here and now. Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over.”

While there are many benefits to being in the moment, for individuals and for virtual teams, here are three notable ones:

  • Increased enjoyment. Work, and any task, can be more pleasant when the mind is not elsewhere. It is easier to appreciate and enjoy things more when your conscious mind is an active participant, and not parked on the sidelines while your autonomous mind is in hyperdrive.
  • Reduced stress. Worrying about the past and future gives you stress. But being present is almost like meditation. There are fewer worries. There is simply more experiencing. Virtual team members can experience a different kind of stress from traditional workers: isolation. The mind can sometimes wander, and worry, more, in this environment.
  • Better relationships. When you really are mindful and commit yourself to being a better listener, team member, coworker, manager, you have better relationships. You have better conversations. You bond. Forming such bonds is one of the most successful things any team manager or CIO can accomplish “for superior performance in virtual teams.” (Harvard Business Review, 06/2013)

Virtual Teamwork

Mindfulness is awareness about moment to moment thoughts of the person and the team. It allows for better relationships, appropriate focus, and better presence among virtual teams Michele McDonald notes that “when we are actually connected with our current experience with single-pointed attention, we are free to form greater connections with others, to become more of a team.” (Dharma lecture, 04/2005) What CIO or team leader couldn’t use that?

Tell us how you create mindfulness within your team. We want to know.

By : Claire Sookman /March 31, 2016 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

How can looking at your “Blind Spot” contribute to your virtual team’s success?

Whenever you’ve tried to pursue something – a fruitful job interview, a presentation well done, or a healthy relationship with your virtual team – you may have heard the age-old advice: “just be yourself”. Even we have said it. To be yourself, you have to recognize and acknowledge everything about yourself – even the bad stuff. You must know yourself wholly.

What does it mean to know your whole self?

Q_Your_blind_spotA person who is whole recognizes every piece of himself or herself. This may sound easy until you realize how much you repress just to get through a day.

We have talked about the shadow self before and how engaging with our shadow selves helps us gain greater self-awareness and heightens our empathy for others.

Imagine yourself driving a car; the space behind the passenger seat just outside your door that isn’t visible to your side mirror is your blind spot. Your blind spot is similar to the shadow self: it is not visible until you make the conscious effort to turn your head and see what is or isn’t there. Failing to see or acknowledge your blind spot is dangerous and can cause accidents.

Not acknowledging a car in your blind spot and risking a car crash is similar to not acknowledging the qualities in yourself you may not like and risking another sort of crash – a breakdown of a relationship with a virtual team member, for example.

How can your blind spot affect your virtual team so much?

In a face-to-face environment, body language is present along with verbal correspondence to communicate with your team. You get immediate reactions from others and you can respond instantaneously.

In a virtual team, it can be more challenging to know your virtual team mates’ reactions to you. Behind a computer screen or on the other end of a telephone line, it can be easier for a slighted team member to hide or disguise his or her disengagement, annoyance, or anger.

In a virtual workplace, without the aid of indicators like a half-smile or crossed arms, your knowledge of yourself can help you navigate through your virtual team and help strengthen your relationships rather than hurt them.

How does not knowing yourself impact your relationship with others?

Q_ImprovementcanstartIgnoring problems don’t make them go away; in many instances, dismissing real problems makes them worse. Improvement can start only if you recognize what needs improvement.

If you have a quality that causes strain in your relationships, you must identify this problematic quality and take ownership of it. Taking ownership means that you can take control of it; you can work through it, you can change it, you can stop it.

Seeing what is in your blind spot is empowering! It lets you know if and when you can change lanes to get to where you want to be.

What conscious efforts do you make to ensure you have a good handle on your blind spots?

By : Claire Sookman /August 31, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Performance Increase in Homeworkers /0 Comment Read More

How can self-awareness grow more effective leaders?

In our last blog post, we talked about authenticity: far from being a feel-good fad, authenticity has been found to be incredibly important to leaders, and especially to leaders of virtual teams.

Suffice it to say that authenticity breeds trust, and trust is the driving force for engagement, productivity, and results in virtual teams. Authenticity is also surprisingly hard to achieve. To be authentic is a process of learning to be self-aware.

We believe that authenticity is a major facet of the human side of virtual teams. Authenticity refers to being true to who we are.

  • How often in our daily lives do we exhibit our genuine selves by being honest with ourselves and others about what we feel and desire?
  • How often do we pursue the things in life that truly make us happy?

Authenticity breeds trust, and trust is the driving force for employee engagement, productivity, and results in virtual teams.Our authentic selves must be expressed through our actions; in other words, we must live genuinely. Living genuinely allows us to be fully present in our jobs, families, and every activity in which we are engaged in, including our virtual teams.

We can’t be fully aware of our authentic selves without being fully present. So let’s take a moment to reflect on our level of self awareness.

Evaluating your level of self-awareness

We have a series of things to consider to guide you through this process.

  • Do you respond with awareness in my virtual meetings? At your next virtual meeting, become the observer and notice how you respond to your colleagues or team members.
  • When someone offers a dissenting opinion, do you take a moment to reflect and respond in a way that values others’ viewpoints?
  • Do you listen for the intent of what is being said, not just the words that our colleagues use? Do you multitask during your meetings?
  • Do you listen for the tone of voice, the pace of their words, and notice whether your colleagues or team members are stressed?
  • Do you judge what someone is saying or do you seek to understand?

What else do you notice about yourself in and out of virtual meetings?

What do you notice about your team members?

  • Do you notice that they’re present or multi-tasking on mute?
  • Do you notice your team members respond quickly to opinions or questions without reflecting?

How to use self-awareness as a leader

One way of encouraging your virtual team to be present is to open up the dialogue to them about what it means to be authentic and present.If you are the leader, consider how you can influence your team in a positive way. One way of encouraging your virtual team to be present, be more aware, and be more authentic is to open the dialogue to them about what presence looks like in your team.

At the beginning of a meeting, have a conversation with your virtual team about what being present looks like; engage your entire team in the conversation.

Self-awareness leads to presence

The more you are aware of your behaviour, the more authentic and present you can be, and the stronger of a leader you can grow.

In our next blog we’ll continue developing our self-evaluation from an outside source: we’re going to ask how your team members perceive you.

By : Claire Sookman /July 16, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Motivating Your Virtual Team, Performance Increase in Homeworkers /0 Comment Read More

What are the two elements that make a virtual team successful?

We have been talking about virtual teams’ challenges; now let’s discuss solutions! In our past blog posts, we talked about how virtual teams are more common than we think (any team where members are 90 feet apart, or more qualifies as a virtual team), and the challenges virtual teams face. Today, let’s review the two elements that make virtual teams successful: task processes, and socio-emotional processes.

Task processes key to company success, right?

The first element—task processes—is pretty straightforward. Task processes means any processes that keep everyone contributing, and on schedule. Task processes can take many forms: from team meetings to status reports.

A quotation on the role of task-processes at work in virtual teams In virtual teams, task processes are especially helpful when they clearly define roles and responsibilities, set out priorities for the team, and establish the levels of accountability that each team member has.

People talk about task processes a lot—and rightfully so, it is important—but we also need to focus on the second element of successful virtual teams. This second element is socio-emotional processes, and it’s where we often falter.

How can socio-emotional processes contribute to your company’s success?

We often ignore establishing socio-emotional processes. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not sure how to handle these processes, and other times, we think that this “soft stuff” is somehow not serious enough for the workplace. But no matter the reason, ignoring the socio-emotional element actually hurts the cohesion and effectiveness of a team.

A quotation stating that teams that spend time on socio-emotional processes had an increase in task performance.Research suggests that teams that spend time on socio-emotional processes had an increase in task performance. Without focus on the socio-emotional element, the team simply won’t work as well.

There are two parts to socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: trust and communication.


Trust is a hugely important element of work, whether it is virtual or face-to-face. However, trust takes longer to build in a virtual environment. It takes four times longer to build trust in a remote environment than in a face-to-face environment. And remember: this is just as true if a team is on different floors as if they work in different countries.

If your team is more than 90 feet apart from each other and communicating primarily through email, phone, or messaging, trust is something you’ll have to consciously work at developing.

Trust comes primarily through identification with each other—“we’re all on the same team”—and through repeatedly matching words to actions. So, building team identity and cohesion, which is an on-going activity and encouraging people to consistently perform what they communicate is a vital part of the trust equation.


This brings us to the second vital part of the socio-emotional processes of a virtual team: communication.

It is harder to communicate in a virtual environment. Without body language, tone of voice, or environmental context, it is harder to transmit a clear message of what we mean. With that in mind, our communication must be clear.

Strategies that can help in establishing clear communications are the following:

  • Have an open door policy.

Let your virtual team know when you will be available to discuss task or non-task related issues.

This may be more easily implemented in a face-to-face environment where you can actually close or open a door, and more challenging in a virtual environment.

If your company uses an internal messaging system, however, you may be able to change your status to signal that you’re welcome to talk! If you rely solely on email, a quick email to your virtual team member letting them know that you’re ready to dedicate a block of your time to anyone who wants to talk about anything may suffice.

  • Establish rules of responsiveness.

How quickly are people expected to return an email, an IM, or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office? Having streamlined standards for lines of communications means that everyone knows what is expected of them and can behave accordingly. Similarly, they know what they can expect from others.

It’s hard to focus on socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: there’s no class on socio-emotional processing in college or university, and nothing in the business world has prepared us for the importance of this element of virtual teaming.

Luckily, that’s where we come in. Leave us a comment below for tips on how you can help strengthen the “soft skills” of your virtual team.

By : Claire Sookman /June 08, 2015 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

    Virtual Team Builders is a training and consulting company that caters to corporations and teams who depend on effective virtual collaboration to succeed. Our training is targeted towards the unique challenges faced by teams operating in a virtual environment; challenges that are present whether members work 90 feet apart or 3000 miles apart.