Being in charge of a team who are remotely located can create a unique set of challenges. Here are our five tips for leading a virtual team to create unity and shared purpose.
Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry
- If you want to be good at managing a virtual team, you’re going to have to be the best at communication and leadership
- Creating a contact schedule through regular meetings is key to managing both formal communication and informal sharing
- Focus on building shared cultural awareness across your team
Read on: Five tips for leading a virtual team
(estimated reading time: 8 minutes)
Being the manager of a team means being in charge of a unique group of personalities and getting them to achieve a specific goal. This is effectively the same wherever your team is located, but if you manage a virtual team you will need to overcome some specific challenges if you want them to perform. Virtual team leaders must cope with multiple boundaries: from cultural, geographic and temporal, through to linguistic and structural. We’ve gathered together five key tips for bringing a virtual team together and getting the best out of their diverse skills and attributes.
1. Good leadership is vital
Part of being a good manager is the desire to always do your best in your role and for the people you manage. Virtual team management requires leaders who can step up to the mark and consistently deliver to a high standard. Being co-located allows leaders to correct their mistakes but in a team that is globally located those in charge will be much more challenged to recover from errors in leadership.
Being accessible is key to creating a support structure for a remotely located team. For a team located in the same office this would involve techniques like the traditional ‘open door policy’. But for remote working this accessibility comes from answering the phone when it rings and having a structured approach to making contact with your team. Use your call time wisely and include informal chats. Informal conversations in both individual and group calls will not only share insights into personalities and cultures, they will also promote bonding within the team.
2. Define and stick to a clear delivery process
To achieve success in remote collaboration it is important to define the roles and responsibilities of your team. Create and communicate an infrastructure and workflow that focuses on delivery. It’s key that each team member understands what their role is and the skills and attributes that each of them contributes. By successfully following your workflow the team will buy into their delivery process and build trust with each other through established reliability.
3. Meet regularly
For virtual team leaders who want their team members to collaborate, it’s necessary to set up a forum for idea sharing where participation is strongly encouraged. Each team member should be able to rely on regular 1:1s for individual sharing and team meetings that promote wider collaboration. By giving the team updates on the status of individual workflows, you engage the whole team in the process while encouraging idea and solution sharing.
Team meetings are the main meeting place of your team and so present a key time to build relationships and encourage bonding. This is also an excellent forum for shared rewards. If your team has performed a task well, you could consider sending them gifts individually that they could open together during a team meeting to share the experience.
When your team is located across multiple time zones it becomes important to focus on being fair when you set up meetings. Try to change the timing for each meeting so that the same member of the team isn’t always having to get up in the middle of the night to talk.
4. Be a champion communicator
Communication is about more than being accessible when your team get in contact: you also need to be able to distribute information at a rate that supports the workflow of your team. As the leader of a remote team you will need to identify and supply the data that your team require, and take into consideration information that is needed to support them because they are not located in the same office.
Begin by providing a context with updates on company performance, objectives, goals, and the performance of other teams within the business. Providing details about how the business is operating will connect remote team members to the details of the business and allow them to feel united towards achieving the same targets. By having the right information they will be able to understand the context of their work in relation to business targets.
One of the most important roles you have as a team leader is ensuring that your team have the information that they need when they need it. You need to create an efficient communication machine and in many cases information will be passing directly through you. Mirror your workflows and create clear communication processes that manage expectations within the team about when and where they will receive information. You should also proactively seek feedback to ensure that your team members feel their communication needs are being met.
5. Make cultural sensitivity a must
When you are working with a distributed team, being sensitive to cultural differences is essential. By giving appropriate consideration for cultural difference you can make sure that your team takes the time to be considerate of differences in each other.
A key attribute of cultural awareness should be recognising the differences in yourself as well as within others. Consider the scenario where you have five different team members in five different countries. Each culture could have a different perspective on how decisions should be made in meetings and each opinion is equally valid. Your role as team leader will be to find a common ground where you can agree on a process for decision making and make it relevant and workable for each member of the team.
Leading a virtual team presents a unique set of challenges that need to be overcome to ensure you can collectively achieve your goals. Take the opportunity to build a shared understanding between your team members by respecting different cultures, prioritising communication, setting clear processes and workflows, and taking time to spend time together in a collaborative environment. Shared perspectives and being the best at communication will set you on the path to building a untied team with a shared purpose.
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