Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Over the past year, working from home has become the norm with the trend set to continue. The development of technology has been an enabler for leading and participating in remote teams. The rise of social media, web and video conferencing and other online communication and collaboration tools are also common place. In theory, all this should make the concept of virtual team working easier than before. And yet, virtual teams still encounter real difficulties.

Technology only addresses a small part of the challenge in operating as an effective virtual team. So whether your team is located across different locations in one country or across international borders, here are a few tips on how to lead virtual teams well:

Vision – if people aren’t working from the same location, it’s vital they all have a clear idea of what they’re working towards and why it’s important. Explain this as concisely as you possibly can for people and be sure to reinforce it whenever you get the chance.

Information – it’s all too easy for virtual teams to get caught in the trap of only hearing from each other when there’s bad news to tell! Agree what and how information will be shared between team members and keep people ‘plugged in’ without overloading them. Information needs to be shared equally amongst team members to help build trust.

Roles & responsibilities – according to Wiley (‘Leading the virtual workforce, 2010) the clarity of your role drops by 62% in virtual teams which can be a real source of conflict for people. Give each person a clear role and explain how their role interacts with others in the team.

Technology – a virtual team certainly won’t function without technology! The important point is that technology is not the deciding factor as to whether a virtual team will be successful. You can have all the latest and greatest forms of technology at your disposal and still not work well as a virtual team! Choose your technology wisely to suit the needs of your team.

Understanding – building a sense of team identity at the earliest opportunity is key to virtual team success. If at all possible, bring people together in one location and help them get to know each other. Give people time at the start of any virtual meeting to chat informally and share personal stories before you focus on the task in hand.

Accountability – virtual team members can’t simply be left alone to get on with it. Spend time with people when you delegate or allocate work to ensure they’re clear on what’s expected. Ensure you also schedule regular ‘check-ins’ with team members to review progress. Create a performance dashboard to show progress against goals and agree how team members will hold each other accountable.

Leadership – as the leader, don’t favour on-site colleagues over remote ones. Make an effort to visit people in their various locations. If you’re able to have regular face-to-face meetings with the team try to rotate where these are held. Develop your coaching skills to encourage individual ownership of tasks and to empower people.

The virtual team is here to stay and is sure to become ever more prevalent. Everything in a virtual environment is magnified due to lack of visibility so for a virtual team to be successful it needs managers to adopt a different approach to deal with the added challenges they present.

About the author

Nicola Maxwell has become a trusted advisor to a wide range of clients across the retail banking, asset management, life and pensions, legal and public sectors. Her coaching and training techniques have enhanced the capabilities of board members, senior leaders, managers, teams and individuals alike.

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