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?

10 Key Lessons On Leading Virtual Teams Effectively

We live in times where more and more work is executed by teams that are geographically distributed. Leading a virtual team, fostering collaboration and binding them to common set of objectives is one of the key challenges for business leaders.

In most of the troubled projects I have seen, the real challenges were not technical/engineering ones but communication/collaboration ones. Having been a part of distributed team and having managed a few projects with virtual teams, here 10 most important lessons I have learned:

Leadership

  • Share Leadership Responsibilities: Success of distributed team depends largely on leadership model. When team is distributed, leadership responsibilities should also be distributed. Command and control leadership model generally fails.
  • Foster Peer Leadership: It is even more crucial when the team is distributed.
  • Clearly articulate team goals and vision: It helps in aligning the team. When team is driven by the purpose, they are better equipped to take right decisions. The team should also know how their work fits into the larger picture.

Trust and Empowerment

  • Lack of trust is one of the biggest killers in a virtual team environment. They way you manage the team tells a lot about how much you trust them. People will back off the moment they feel that they are not trusted.
  • Don’t get insecure: When a team is away, leaders tend to get insecure and start micro-managing. They just push decisions to their teams, rather than involving them in the decision making. This works against building a culture of trust and empowerment.
  • Be human – people in your virtual team are still human beings who possess a set of important skills, who carry a self-esteem and who are emotional. You can treat them as “resources” or treat them as “human beings” – that choice makes a lot of difference.

Effective Collaboration

  • Even in virtual teams, face to face communication is very crucial. The best way to start a project is to have entire team interact with each other on a one to one basis. Even in virtual setting, it is important that team members know each other well.
  • Establish formal and informal communication rituals to stay constantly connected with the team. Technologies like real time/video chat and phone calls really help in establishing a two way dialogue where people can freely express themselves.
  • Provide clarity to all team members on roles, responsibilities, protocols and basic expectations on communication, deliveries and quality.
  • Have a system that provides clear status of the tasks and results of each team member’s efforts. Central management systems helps everyone stay on the same page. These systems can also be used to automate a lot of communication and collaboration.

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Join in the conversation:

Have you been a part of a distributed team? Have you led a virtual team to deliver results to your customers? What best practices would you like to share?