in Communication

Managing Virtual Teams and Communication: 6 Pointers

I wrote earlier about 10 Key Lessons in Managing a Virtual Team.

Here are a few more pointers:

  • Business is a contact sport and management is a social act.Lisa Haneberg said this in 2006, and it is even more relevant today when managers are struggling to get their geographically distributed teams aligned to project goals.
  • Understanding unique personal characteristics of individuals and then work the way through those differences to achieve the goal is one of the biggest strengths of a manager. One to one communication and contact with the team members is at the core of managing well. With increase in volume of work, the need to deal with larger teams, get more done in a distributed work environment – managers often compromise on this core element of managing. It only helps managers understand people, their unique ways of working, their communication preferences and their motivations. A sensible manager tends to get a lot of clues about a person by “listening” to their team.
  • Even with remote team members, don’t try to drive entire team as one unit that follows same set of rules. Don’t treat them as machines who would take instructions and get them executed. Team members hate managers who hide behind technology and push difficult decisions to team via emails and text messages. Be open and honest enough to share your perspectives in difficult situations. Team members have to sense that your intent is right.
  • Management is a contact sport – and it is a “context sport” as well. Managers are obliged to provide a context, a larger picture that helps team members in driving their actions. As human beings, we want to know the impact of our work, what problem does it solve, how it fits into a larger context and how it makes a difference. It is a manager’s job to fulfill this need. Technology can be an enabler, but is certainly not an alternative to one on one communication in the team.
  • Lack of energy in communication irks more than anything else. When on call with your remote team, ensure that you maintain energy in conversation and seek participation via open ended questions, eliciting feedback, facilitating and summarizing the information when needed.
  • As far as possible, try to build consensus before taking decisions. Team members will own the outcomes if they were involved in planning process. Not involving teams in planning and simply pushing tasks to them is a mistake that makes people dispassionate about the outcome.

I think the management abilities required to manage a virtual team are no different than the ones to manage any other team – but communication and collaboration takes a front seat when dealing with remote teams. It is important to be able to reach out to people and align them to the vision of the project/initiative.

Unless that is done, team members will never be able to think about how they can deliver quality in their outcomes.

Join in the conversation: What ideas would you like to add? What are your lessons in communication aspect when dealing with remote teams?

  1. It does not require any rocket science to deal with and handle the remote team.We understand the human desire to be empowered , once we are at the root of it , we can counter any challenge in this model. Most of the time Managers alienate the remote team in their planning stuffs & focus too much on the team in front , they take lots many things for granted and forget that the Team sitting at some distant geography is as important as the one in front.Involve them , engage them, discuss with them , incorporate their inputs and very often in team meetings tell …’hey lets put this to remote team and see what they think , they might come up with some wonderful idea…’ ; send them rough draft of Plans & ask them ..If they think any changes required..so on & so forth…A manager who can’t emotionally attach to his remote team is always seen as a bone of contention which later result in consequences which are not for the team & the work in hand.

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts to this post Zafar.

      Inclusion of remote teams in ideas, brainstorming, solutioning and planning is crucial and I my view, it all starts with the intent – intent could be to use the remote team as a bunch of “resources” or treat them as human beings who can think.

      Communication, and the way it is done across the team, reveals this intent.

  2. aptly articulated. Just to spice this up further with my experience , even remote teams have to take the onus when things are not working out , at times you can’t change ‘habit’ of individuals and neither you can sit down and be the victim of situation which eventually is not good for the overall professional health of the team and the performance.teams at remote location need to contemplate onto the human aspects of a particular Manager who may have certain behavior trait .Manager needs to be informed in a nice polite way about the concerns & the possible expectations, close follow up on the improvement curve and frequent reminders on deviations ; at times setting up meetings specially to discuss the specific problems cropping up due to negligence of remote team .Once the teams have willingness to take the onus onto themselves to improve , they can very well improve simply because they feel the pain and their active involvement in healing mechanism is desired instead expecting much from the other side…

    • Zafar, Thanks for spicing this conversation up :)

      Our context here was to explore how to lead better when dealing with remote teams. The other context is what should remote team members do, if they see poor communication happening on the team. You offer some very good ideas.

      In a nutshell, the answer is feedback – team members have to provide the right feedback across the team (and also to the organization) to ensure that expectations are aligned and communication is clear. Better yet, communication planning, preferences, communication rituals can be articulated during the kickoff to map expectations right at the beginning. In my experience, it always works.

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