Highly Functional Virtual Teams

One of the “happy accidents” I discovered while coaching virtual instructors is that they told me the techniques were really useful in engaging a virtual staff during meetings. I’ve also found them helpful as a cross-site or cross-geo team lead. (I’ve led several virtual project-close celebrations using shipped party favors, video conference rooms, and annotation tools.) I wanted to share the info on this free learning session. I’ve studied under Jennifer Hofmann for a while and she is always enlightening. She’s been managing virtual teams for many years.

May 27, 2015, 1-2 PM US Eastern Time:  Jennifer Hofmann, President of InSync Training, presents Creating Highly Functional Virtual Teams.

Can a virtual team be as effective as a co-located team? This is a question that organizations are debating, and the arguments on both sides are very compelling. Factors like work-life balance and organizational savings need to be balanced with the value of face-to-face collaboration and managerial oversight.

Whether you personally embrace the concept or not, chances are you will participate as a virtual team member during your career.

The reality is, a virtual team can be very effective if the correct conditions are met and maintained. It’s about putting together the right personalities, ensuring they have the right tools, and leading the team successfully. After discussing the arguments for and against establishing a virtual team, this workshop will use real life examples to address six key enablers for success.


  1. How to form the virtual team: Identifying the profile of an effective virtual team and its players, and how to engage existing team members in selecting new team members.
  2. How to enable the virtual team: Ensuring the right technologies and processes are in place to ensure success.
  3. How to maintain the virtual team: Creating inter-reliability, trust, and teamwork.
  4. How to protect the virtual team: Identifying and managing issues before they become destructive.
  5. How to lead the virtual team: Establishing credibility while maintaining the right balance of oversight and empowerment.
  6. How to reward the virtual team: Creating team building opportunities across the distance.

Webinar Report-Out: Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners

I attended Jennifer Hoffmann’s Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners. She modeled the session after Malcolm Knowles’ six principles of adult learning, which promotes collaborative learning over lecture:

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

I agree with all of these principles. As we design for and facilitate sessions in the live virtual classroom, they should guide our treatment of adult learners. They don’t want to be treated like novices or children.

Additionally, I always use Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching as a rubric to make sure I have built in activities that address learner needs to increase the likelihood that they will apply the learning. The framework suggests fulfilling these four criteria:

  1. Establish Inclusion– Create an environment of mutual respect and connection. This can be done by posting participant and instructor bios, allowing participants to choose their own work groups, and creating a quick orientation to help students learn how to learn in the VC. An excellent example of an orientation by Insync TrainingLearn How to Learn Online
  2. Develop a Learning Attitude– Set ground rules and mutual expectations as a class. Facilitators can gauge the needs of the participants using annotation tools to involve everyone.
  3. Enhance Meaning– Meet learner needs by making the content relevant and personally meaningful. Use polling and annotation tools to help participants provide feedback. Find out why they chose this class. Are they trying to solve a problem? How do they plan to use what they learn?
  4. Engender Competence– Create experiences where participants can perform–>receive feedback–>make adjustments–>perform. Provide simulations and simple performance assessments via the VC, web-based resources. If it is impractical to perform in the virtual classroom then give an assignment to perform back on the job with criteria that a  peer or manager can use to give feedback.

Don’t Punish the Learner

Jane Bozarth posted a great piece on her Bozarthzone blog called Punish the Learner. Don’t worry, she isn’t advocating punishment. She speaks of the crippling power of a single bad learning experience and how it sometimes takes decades to recover. In particular, she gives the example of a six year old girl at her first piano recital. High expectations have been placed on her to perform in an unfamiliar environment with a large audience and no sheet music. The result was so devastating that she didn’t touch another musical instrument for more than 50 years.

I’m a huge fan of providing a safe place to practice new learning within the Learning experiences I design. I model this on step 4 of Raymond Woldkowsi’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Step 4 focuses on Engendering Competence. This means providing the learner a supportive environment to practice application of the new skill, receive feedback, and try again.

I think it’s also important to have performance support tools in place once the learner has walked onto the “stage” of the workplace to perform with peers and the boss watching. Some refer to this as a supportive scaffolding. I like to call it the Life Line. If you’ve ever watched the program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? you might remember the available “life lines” a contestant may use if they get stuck answering a question. The original three life lines were:

  • Fifty-Fifty–remove two incorrect answers
  • Phone-a-Friend–a thrity second phone call to a smarty pants friend for help
  • Ask the Audience–audience members use feedback remotes to tell the contestant which answer they think is correct.

What if workplace learning had life lines? What if every learner was given permission to call the instructor for help if they got stuck? What if former students joined an alumni group and answered questions from those who just completed the class and were trying things out back at their desk? What if every learner had the equivalent of sheet music to get them through the performance?

I constantly challenge myself to think of ways to support learners well after the initial Learning Event is over.

What are the most successful “Life Lines” you have provided to learners?

Virtual Producer, Part 1 – Preparing your SME or Presenter

This is part one of a three-part series on the Virtual Learning Event Producer. The distinction between the facilitator and producer (though one person might cover both roles) is that the producer is mainly behind-the-scenes running the technical side of the learning event. The producer may be responsible for the following:

  • Planning the event with the facilitator/subject matter expert (SME)
  • Performing a “makeover” on the materials to make them more appropriate for a virtual adult learning environment
  • Preforming a similar role to a radio producer on a live talk program

This first post will focus on planning the event.

I produce a monthly learning session for R&D managers at McAfee. We usually have facilitators scheduled out a year in advance, so my first step is to check in with them one month before the event. This quick check in reminds them of their commitment. It’s also a good time to make sure it’s still on their radar—and their calendar—before things get too booked up. If the facilitator is a senior manager with a busy calendar, I may even check in two months before (and make sure their admin knows about it). I let them know to expect to spend one to two hours with me over 2-3 sessions that month to prepare. The timing all depends on how much work we have to do to focus the content. Most people try to squeeze too much material into a one-hour slot.



This is my first official meeting with the facilitator and usually happens 3-4 weeks before the learning event. It lasts about an hour if materials are ready and we can do the content review in this first session. It might be split into two 30-minute sessions to review the content later. The purpose of this session is to discuss the needs of the target audience, review the facilitator’s goals, and identify opportunities for participant engagement. I use the following sets of questions to accomplish this:

Identify the Needs of the Target Audience

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What will they do with the information?
  • What do participants already know about your topic? Are they novices? Experienced? Expert? A range?

I use the answers to focus the learning goals in the next step.


Review Facilitator Goals and Set the Learning Goals/Objectives

  • Why do we need this session? Are we taking advantage of an opportunity? Avoiding a painful consequence? Something else?
  • What behavior change are we looking for?
  • What do you want participants to be able to do after the session? (Not just know, but be able to do and how?)
  • How will we know if we were successful?

I use the answers to focus the content.


Review the Content and Identify Opportunities for Engagement

  • Compare current content to the learning goals. Is there content to support each one? Are we missing content? Is there extraneous content we can move to backup or distribute in as supporting documentation?
  • Identify opportunities for interaction using a variety of tools such as polls, white boards, annotation tools, chat, and status icons. Is there an appropriate time to:
    • Dispel a misconception?
    • Gauge audience attitudes?
    • Allow participants to make predictions?
    • Apply learning by analyzing a case study and responding?
    • Ask participants to share one thing that they will apply right away?


NEXT STEPS: If content needs to be added or changed schedule a Final Content Review Meeting (30 min to 1 hr) before the content makeover. Repeat the steps above.


My next post will focus on the content makeover (aka the PowerPoint Makeover).

Understand the Participant Experience

This just happened in a virtual class I attended, produced by a highly respected university on the West Coast that will remain unnamed.

cant hear Where do I even begin? I’ve written before about the importance of having a qualified producer to support the facilitator in virtual learning sessions. The producer handles technical issues for the facilitator and participants, helps launch polls and other media, fields questions,and frees up the facilitator to focus on running the session.

It’s more than just technical support. The producer needs to understand the participant experience. What does the viewing screen look like for the participant? Is it the same for Mac and PC users? Jennifer Hofmann of Insync Training describes the producer in this way:

From class set up, to technical support, to instructional support – and even participant advocate, the producer is a role present in more and more virtual classrooms. Combining the roles of Teaching Assistant and Help Desk, the Producer can be difference between an exceptional training session, and an ineffective webinar.

At a bare minimum, the producer should understand that a participant who cannot hear the facilitator also cannot hear the verbal answer to the question he is asking!

My current job experience has put me in the role of the producer far more often than facilitator lately. I’ve been honing my skills as a producer and will soon share a series on best practices for virtual event producers.

10 Tools: Glympse

I’ve been remiss. In rising to the challenge of a new job I’ve been dreadfully neglecting my blog. Thanks for being patient. Here is your reward: Glympse.

GlympseI was first introduced to Glympse by a guest who was new to the area and wanted me to know where he was so I could give directions if he got lost. My husband and I started using Glympse regularly because we’ve been doing long drives solo and it helps us keep tabs on each other’s ETA. It also provides some peace of mind that we can track the other driver’s progress and will know that they are OK. I had a interesting hiccup with my cell service a few weeks ago–my service was erroneously cut and I panicked for a moment because I couldn’t send my husband a Glympse for my drive home. How ever did we live without our cell phones?

You can send a Glympse to anyone, whether they have the app or not. The receiver can track you via the website. This has been great for road trips so our hosts know when we are getting close. I can also imagine parents of teenagers liking this if their kids are driving long distances.

Glympse is also great if we split up for a bit downtown to run errands. We can check each other’s position, then meet someplace in between. This is great for meeting up with friends too.

No educational applications for this one, but it’s definitely one of my most-used tools.