“Why are we talking about virtual teams, when my team isn’t here?”
Distinguished as Canada’s pioneer in virtual team building, Claire Sookman specializes in helping geographically-dispersed teams reduce costs and reach their maximum potential through training, coaching, consulting, and designing.
As the driving force behind Virtual Team Builders, Claire brings to the table over a decade’s worth of corporate and public sector training experience. In the past three years alone, she has worked with over 4,500 managers. Claire specializes in virtual team building and communication strategies and provides training that enables teams that are geographically dispersed to work more efficiently.
But how did Claire get here? How did she take her background in Psychology, and turn it into a passion for training virtual teams?
Here is her story:
“Hello and welcome! My name is Claire Sookman and I will be your facilitator for this session. The goal of our session today will be on how to build both virtual and co-located teams.” A hand shoots up in the middle of the training room “Yes? A question?” Claire points to the raised hand.
“Why are we talking about virtual teams, when my team isn’t here?” The bluntness of the question strikes a match in Claire’s mind and ignites an idea: A team-building course for virtual teams, done virtually. By the end of the class Claire couldn’t remember who had interrupted her but the idea stuck and Virtual Team Builders was born.
Her biggest challenge? Educating companies on what exactly a virtual team is. Considering the fact that some companies weren’t even aware that they had virtual teams meant Claire’s work was cut out for her. She spent a great deal of time speaking with organization leaders explaining what a virtual team was, and how to be successful.
Companies didn’t know they needed virtual team training because they didn’t know they had virtual teams.
Most leaders were unaware that if you were 50 feet apart or more you were, in fact, a virtual team. The implication to the organization was they needed to put processes into place to help them manage their team whether they worked 50 feet apart or 500 miles apart.
This lack of understanding causes bigger issues when teams come across virtual problems and diagnose them as team issues rather than virtual team issues, masking the actual problems with ineffective fixes.
Over the years, there has since been an avalanche of realization and understanding in the business community for the need to grow on a global scale, access the global workforce, and go green…all the while maintaining a cost-efficient and family-friendly workplace. And so with this new understanding came the next hurdle: the effective management and implementation of a virtual team, which is where Claire comes back into the story.
Although the necessity of virtual teams has been recognized, mastering the transition from a co-located environment to a dispersed environment has been wrought with difficulty. The different communication needs and lack of visual cues create unfamiliar obstacles for employers and employees alike such as: building trust; technology challenges; staying engaged during virtual meetings; feelings of isolation; and transferring leadership qualities from the face-to-face environment to a virtual one.
While most were viewing virtual teams as a temporary trend that would eventually fade, Claire realized it as one of the next trailblazing facets for businesses around the world. And Claire didn’t just talk the talk…she walked it…and took her class on virtual team building and made it virtual. She demonstrated exactly how well a company can function on a completely virtual basis. With a defined history and acknowledgement from the business community, Virtual Team Builders has solidified its spot on the corporate horizon and has become one of the most sought-after organizations for the successful training and management of virtual teams. And yes…her entire company is structured virtually.