Several weeks ago, I wrote a post with seven keys to leading virtual teams.
In the time since I published that post, I have received even more questions about the challenges of leading and managing remote or virtual teams.
What was once the territory of geographically dispersed sales teams is now a reality for people in nearly every field, in nearly every part of any organization. Whether people are telecommuting or working in far flung parts of the world, whether on project teams or as a part of their daily work: people are being asked to work together, collaborate and create business results when they don’t sit next to or near each other.
Because this topic is so timely, I wanted to share four more ideas for leaders of virtual teams.
Recognize both the challenge and opportunity. There are clearly challenges when your team members are scattered across time zones and space. Remember, there are opportunities too. People who are remote and working from home have been found, in most cases, to be individually more productive. When your team isn’t together you will have different perspectives and inputs (and perhaps more cultural diversity too), which means you should get more varied ideas and be less susceptible to group think. Remote teams bring great opportunity; make sure you are capitalizing on those opportunities.
Have clear goals. In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of establishing clear expectations. Along with clear expectations, we must have well-defined goals. What is the team trying to accomplish? Do they all know, and can they all consistently describe, the goals? What are you doing to remind people of these goals and keep them in front of them? While this is always important, it is especially so when people are not in consistent contact with each other. As a leader you must make sure the goals are clear and everyone is focused on moving towards them.
Manage team dynamics. People are remote or virtual but they are still a team. Make sure you are thinking about team dynamics. On conference calls, is everyone participating? Do you have people checking out or disengaging? Is your team the right size for achieving the desired work product? Are there better ways to manage various pieces of the work? Is there another means of communication that might work better? These are just a small sample of the things you need to think about in terms of group or team dynamics for your virtual team.
Find small ways to nurture relationships. Relationships can be challenging at a distance. Find ways to engage people with each other beyond the business and tasks. Communicate with team members in the way they prefer. Send a tweet, connect on Facebook, call unexpectedly to check in, or send a text. Whatever you do, make sure you are making time to build relationships with each team member and helping team members connect with each other, also. It can be hard enough to do (and find time to do) this when everyone is together. It is harder and requires a more conscious effort to do it when people are remote. Do it proactively; don’t wait until you have fractured relationships to get started.
As you’ve read this you may think that many of these things would be true for a “normal” team too. If you are thinking that you would be completely correct! Many of the items here do apply to all teams. Why? Because virtual or remote teams are still teams of people first. Remembering that is the first step towards success. Focus on team first, and virtual second.
Here I have shared a few ideas that will help any team. However, rather than focusing solely on the challenging parts of people being remote, remember the solid principles that help all teams of people be more successful.
These ideas will help you and your team (individually and collectively). I wish you great success in applying them!
photo credit Kai Hendry