Building a virtual department

On June 14, 2017, Linda had the privilege of presenting to the American Association of Port Authorities on Promoting and Celebrating Internal Communications – or what we describe as creating cultures of leadership and engagement. 
For the presentation, Linda was on a panel with Kathy Broadwater, a Principal at EcoLogix Group, Inc., in Parkton, Maryland. Kathy had spent 16 years as the Deputy Executive Director at the Maryland Port Administration and shared two tools she found powerfully effective in her work there.
These are great tools for working in a wide range of organizational settings and we’re delighted to share them with you here. Kathy has graciously given us the go-ahead to discuss these with you and we’ve interpreted them through our lenses to support you in using them effectively. 
This week we’re describing how to create a virtual department, and next week we’re going to talk about building a charter or shared compact for your virtual department, or any team working to create alignment on their goals and focus.
There’s a lot of information out there on virtual teams but this is the first time we’d heard of someone creating a virtual department
This is a brilliant strategy when resources are tight, when an effort needs representation from across the organization, or when you’re trying to get a group focused on an important effort that has yet to become an actual department in the organization.  
To create a virtual department:

  1. Identify the key leaders who are stakeholders in the idea of creating a virtual department.
    • Help them understand the benefits and the costs of allocating manager and staff time to this effort, the expectation for time commitment, an approximate date when the work will be done, and how the success of the “department” will be assessed.  
    • When you bring together managers and staff from across the organization you must have the buy-in from their bosses that they will be committing a specific amount of time each month to this new “department.”


  1. Invite staff with an inherent interest in the work of the virtual department.
    • As with an actual department, you’ll always be more effective if you find people who are interested in joining instead of being forced to join.


  1. If possible, involve people who already have established working relationships to shorten the time it takes to build a sense of “we.”


  1. Define the broad objectives for the work and create a set of general guidelines.
    • It’s key that all involved – from leaders/stakeholders to participants who will join the “department” – understand the broad objectives for the work and have a set of general guidelines. 
    • This is where a charter or shared compact, which we’ll be discussing next week, can be very powerful.


  1. To engage the team in this new department, it’s critical that all voices and perspectives are treated with respect and feel valued. 


  1. Ensure that recommendations for solutions, initiatives, or investments are developed in a way that all members of the department can see their fingerprints on the work and can feel ownership of the process.


  1. One of the things that Kathy always did that was brilliant was to provide public recognition and celebration for the work of the “department.”
    • This kind of public recognition is a wonderful form of payment for this work and it conveys that joining a virtual department is an honor that’s respected and rewarded. 

This week, take some time to consider if creating a virtual department is a solution for an organization that you’re a part of. Let us know if you create a virtual department and how it unfolds.

Do you want advice on creating and maintaining a virtual department in your organization? Contact us today. We’d love to help you explore the benefits of a virtual department.