There’s no doubt that leading a virtual team member is different from leading a co-located direct report. The lack of day-to-day contact and interaction magnifies the challenges of leadership.
But you don’t need to rely on costly trial and error to get it right.
You can overcome the tyranny of distance by applying these four pivotal keys to success…
1. Take Extra Steps To Cultivate Trust
Charles Handy, the Irish organisational behaviour specialist said, “If we are to enjoy the efficiencies and other benefits of the virtual organisation we will have to discover how to run organisations more on trust than on control. Virtuality requires trust to make it work.”
How do we develop trust? By getting to know a person, and vice versa.
Opportunities for social warmth are important—so invest time in chitchat, check in personally before moving on to the work stuff.
- Frequent interactions build affinity, as do face-to-face meetings. Have as many as is practical
- Opportunities for social warmth are important—so invest time in chitchat, check in personally before moving on to the work stuff.
These things all build trust.
But what really gets things moving is having genuinely authentic conversations.
What about you up-the-opportunity for candour and personal sharing by asking questions like, “What’s something you’re pretty chuffed about at the moment?”, and then “What’s something that’s concerning you?” Then you reciprocate the sentiments.
2. Create A Strong Sense Of “Team”
Relationships need to be actively fostered in virtual teams—they don’t naturally occur as they do when you’re co-located.
Maximising team member’s interaction with each other will boost cooperation and help supress a sense of isolation:
- Have regular team virtual meetings.
Once a week is seen by most as the ideal. Use your meetings to celebrate successes. And have each team member share where they think they’re most on track, where they’d like to be more on track, and what support they’d find useful.
- Have regular team face-to-face meetings.
Twice a year, minimum, is a rule of thumb.
- Have the team agree on the team’s purpose, goals and strategies.
Members of teams need more than a clear understanding of their own roles. High performing teams also have clarity about the team’s purpose, goals and strategies—and, because of the extra complexity distance adds, having an agreed purpose, goals and strategies is even more crucial for virtual teams.
3. Develop A “Working Agreement”
Almost as important as the question of what are each team member’s and the team’s the targeted outcomes, is the question of how goals will be achieved—how you’ll work together.
You and each of your virtual team members need to have full alignment of your expectations of each other to prevent disappointment or conflict around the corner.
I think of it as a Working Agreement, a Working Agreement that addresses things such as:
- Hours of work and accessibility—theirs and yours:
This includes how you’ll equitably manage time zone differences, if that’s relevant. (It’s not OK that one person is always be the one to get up at 4 am!)
- Email guidelines:
Agree response times, “cc” protocols, no one-line responses (include “softeners”), when to email/when to ring (ring when you want to nip potential misunderstandings in the bud).
- Meeting arrangements:
When you’ll have virtual and face-to-face meetings—both one-on-one and with your full team. Technologies for virtual meetings. Locations for face-to-face meetings.
- Cultural norms (if relevant):
What are they and how will you capitalise on your cultural diversity.
4. And Most Importantly—Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Communication is the lifeblood for leading virtual team members!
Communication, authentic communication, is at the heart of our effective relationships, especially virtual ones—and effective relationships are at the heart of effective performance.
When you’re separated from your team member by distance, these two communication habits are crucial:
- Communicate consistently and reliably with your virtual team member.
Have a schedule for one-on-one phone and face-to-face meetings. If you haven’t already got them into your diaries, get them in there—and stick to them. When your team member’s not working in the same office it’s even more important not to have them feel bumped by “something more important”.
- Go all out to have them feel valued and respected by you.
Changing scheduled meetings with them, particularly at the last minute, tends to fly-in-the-face of enhancing the team member’s sense of feeling valued and respected by you.
Communicate your appreciation of their work and their efforts. I can’t tell you how much your direct reports appreciate your appreciation. I can tell you that it’s way more than you imagine it is!
Your Leadership Call to Action
Here’s where the rubber-hits-the-road…
- What will you do or say to accelerate the trust in your virtual team member relationship/s?
- What more could you do to foster the relationships amongst your virtual team members, and create a greater sense of “team”?
- Do you need to create, or clarify, your agreements with your virtual team member/s on how you’ll work together?
- What more will you do on the communication front, to create more authentic communications and/or to help your virtual team members feel highly valued and respected by you?
I’m interested to know what you think of these four pivotal keys to success with virtual team members. As always, keep me posted on your thinking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.