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Leading Virtual Teams – Tips for Success

November 8th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

If you’re a leader, chances are that at least a portion of your team is working remotely, or for that matter, in another part of the world. Increased globalization and advances in technology have changed the way we work, with some teams never actually being in the same room together. While virtual teams have many benefits – an expanded talent pool, reduced office space requirements, the ability for employees to work from anywhere – they are not without their challenges. Especially for leaders.

A 2016 study by RW3, LLC, a cultural training service, Trends in Global Virtual Teams, found that some of the biggest challenges for global teams were: colleagues who do not participate, pace of decision making, and different role expectations held by team members. The study also found that the biggest challenge to productivity was the lack of face-to-face communication, which respondents said impacted managing conflict, establishing trust and building relationships. All important components for team success.

Leading virtual teams, especially global teams, requires an additional set of leadership skills. Yet few leaders receive training that specifically prepares them for this role. According to the RW3 study, while 74% of respondents had received formal leadership training, only 34% had received global leadership training. Likewise, although 85% of respondents said they work on virtual teams, only 22% said they had received training to increase their productivity on virtual teams. Clearly, there’s a development opportunity here.

In the meantime, here are some tips for leading virtual teams effectively.

Be engaged and available. Team members working from a distance, whether it’s in a home office in the US or from a global location, can feel isolated. Engage with individual team members on a regular basis to ask how things are going and to provide support. Be available to them when they have concerns, ideas, or just need to talk.

Leverage video technology. Use videoconferencing, Skype or any other tools available to you to allow team members to see each other. This is especially important when the team is forming, and when critical issues and/or decisions need to be discussed. Also consider having a team site where members names, locations, role and images are posted.

Create ground rules for virtual meetings. In our ever-connected, multi-tasking world it’s hard to keep people focused on one task, especially if they’re out of sight. Agree on ground rules up front, such as “cell phones off,” “one person speaks at a time,” etc. Distribute the agenda prior to the meeting and send out a recap afterward. Factor some time into each meeting for team members to have open discussion and to get to know each other better.

Establish communication guidelines. Create a process for regular communication, expected response time, and how issues will be prioritized. Encourage team members to use video or phone calls to work out issues or when information may need clarification. Remember, email is one-way communication. Picking up the phone (or Skype!) can go a long way in building trust and developing relationships.

Respect and rotate time zones. Be sure that everyone knows where their team members are located and their respective time zones. Establish a “best time to call” list for intra-team communications. Rotate time zones for team meetings so one person isn’t always the early-riser or later-worker.

Practice cultural sensitivity. Minimize misunderstandings by providing cultural training to all team members. Create a team environment that welcomes diversity of thought, backgrounds, experience and communication style. Provide opportunities for team members to educate each other about cultural nuances.

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." – Henry Ford

Till next time,
Karen

Communication, Leadership, Teams, Virtual teams

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