Virtual team management – a ‘Mr. Men’ approach to virtual persona development

I was giving an inhouse workshop on virtual team management recently and in developing the course material I found myself faced with the problem of constructing a session around how to deal with virtual team members who inadvertently cause problems for both team leaders and team members. The use of personas in various elements of web and intranet design is now widely used and I have also found the collaboration personas developed by Tara Matthews and her colleagues at IBM a very valuable approach. Although there is a substantial amount of literature on virtual team management (some of which I summarised in a Research Note last year) I have not seen anything specific on personas.Another factor to take into account is that workshops should both educate and be enjoyable so a quasi-academic approach to persona development seemed inappropriate.

The solution I devised and which I trialled in the workshop was to use the Mr. Men concept development by the author Roger Hargreaves. If you look at the list of the Mr. Men and Little Miss books I’m sure that you will quite quickly be able to match some of them to members of your virtual teams. Mr Busy, Mr, Grumble, Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Impossible come quickly to mind.  In small groups the workshop attendees discussed how they would deal, in a constructive way, with these and with some others.  Several new Mr. Men were developed! The concept can be extended outside of the UK. For example Don Ocupado (Mr. Busy in Spanish) and Herr Vergesslich (Mr Forgetful in German).  I found this approach enabled the attendees to talk about their own experiences in a common language and with a smile without having to give ‘real’ examples from the company. The Mr. Men images and concept are copyright  so do take copyright issues into account when using this approach.

One of the purposes of this section of the workshop was to consider the options for ensuring that the behaviours characterised by these personas did not undermine the performance of the team. There are many different approaches and the attendees came up with some very good ideas.  One of the reasons for having this section of the workshop is that virtual team leaders need to anticipate these problems and have solutions ready to deploy during the course of a meeting to ensure that the meeting objectives are agreed and that all the members of the team feel that they have been able to make a contribution.

We run both half-day and one-day workshops on virtual teams. The half-day workshop does not cover language, time and cultural issues that are a feature of multinational teams.

Martin White