Technology is a manifestation of our interconnectedness. Being able to easily video conference with colleagues or loved ones; having the capability to group share pictures, videos, and documents; and being able to communicate instantly with others around the world is miraculous. It has opened up lots of possibilities for working remotely, having cross-cultural teams, gaining input, and staying connected.
As leaders today, we need to embrace leading from a distance. We need to understand which team effectiveness best practices still apply and which outdated rules we need to discard.
We also need to be diligent about using virtual teams and work environments to promote balance and healthy workplaces. The pitfall to being connected all the time is feeling like you should be working all the time, which is addictive and hazardous.
At Tiara International, we have been a virtual team for 10 years, and we come from an organization development and consultative background, specializing in team effectiveness. From our vantage point, here are success factors for leading virtual teams.
1. Have a clear purpose for the team and team members.
With the fast-paced environment we are in, each team needs a clear purpose. Why is the team working together? What is the outcome? What is the timeline? Why is each person essential to the team? In successful teams, each person can answer these questions without any ambiguity.
2. Choose the right timing for team meetings.
Schedule meeting times depending on your team’s purpose. If you are actively moving a top priority project forward, you might need short, frequent meetings to stay on track. If you are a team that manages long-term initiatives, perhaps meeting for a longer period once or twice a month is relevant. Assess your meeting structure at least once a year and revise it to meet the current needs.
3. Have clear baseline expectations about being on time, absences, multi-tasking, and meeting follow-up.
Be very clear with the team about these items. Is your norm that the start time is when people call-in, but are still getting coffee, running to the bathroom, and wrapping up the email from their last meeting? Or is the start time when everyone is ready to go? If someone is absent, how do they communicate and get caught up? Are decisions made if people are not present? Is multi-tasking expected or does everyone need their attention on the conversation? What happens after the meeting? Are notes sent out? Is it recorded?
There is not one right answer. You and your team need to create the baseline understanding of what works for you. Do not make it overly complex. Design these expectations so they work for you. As the leader, you must also role model these expectations with an extraordinarily high level of integrity.
4. Set and communicate boundaries.
Along with the meeting expectations, it’s important for the team to know when and how to disconnect. In different time zones, the work days do not always align. When can people take a break from responding to emails? Are there any days or times that everyone is expected to be offline to promote balance and wellbeing?
5. Use the “right” technology for your team.
One pitfall is to feel like you need to use the latest-and-greatest technology all the time. You don’t. You need to use what works for your team. Yes, there are great project and team management platforms out there (Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Freedcamp, and more), yet if your team thrives on shared Google Drive spreadsheets, fine. On the other hand, don’t resist technology. It’s there to help you. One of the best advances for virtual teams is the ease of video conferencing. This raises connection and accountability exponentially. We’ve had good luck with the user-friendly Zoom platform for video meetings.
6. Resolve issues quickly and directly.
In the virtual environment, it’s easy to get off of a call slightly irritated by what someone said, what was assigned to you, or by who was absent. It’s just as easy to go about your day and your work, brushing it to the side. This is good when it helps you avoid making too much of a small frustration. Yet when it causes you to build resentment and frustration over time, it can eat away at you, your productivity, and the team’s overall effectiveness. Each person on the team needs to resolve issues that come up responsibly and directly, for the sake of the team.
7. Be self-aware, self-disciplined, and self-motivated
In order to be an effective virtual team leader or team member, it requires an even higher level of self awareness, self discipline, and self motivation. When we all get to the office by 8:30 and stay there until 6:30 pm, we have the visibility and structure of that environment. When we work remotely and manage people at a distance, we need to know ourselves very well to stay focused, to handle issues that come up proactively, and nurture positive relationships with the team members.
8. Start each meeting getting connected.
It’s easy to feel like you need to jump into the content and “get things done” because “there is limited time.” However, we have a very long-standing practice that we find essential, which is getting connected with each person at the meeting. If time is short, we might ask for each person to share two words about how they are coming to the meeting. If we have more time, we might ask each person to share their intentions for the meeting or respond to a deeper connection question. We want people to transition to the meeting and know that their voice is important in the dialogue.
9. Have a reasonable agenda that is inclusive of the people in the meeting and ends with Who, What, When for all action items.
We often try to pack too much into one call or we are bored as one person runs through a laundry list of items that could have been emailed. Virtual meeting time should be designed to be a meaningful, rich experience where people can share, ask questions, provide input, and make key decisions to move forward together. Designing the agenda, sharing it in advance, and role modeling this type of facilitation cuts down on absences and increases productivity.
10. Meet in person!
Even though we are located all over the world, we need to connect as people. Meeting with your team, either individually or as a group, is very important. Getting together once or twice a year is invaluable.
What are your best practices for leading virtually? Share with us below!
Continue the discussion with our Global Leadership Roundtable on Wednesday, March 28 at 9:00 am CT as global leaders share their best practices and strategies for leading virtual teams successfully. Become a part of the conversation!