The last three posts have been focused on overcoming challenges encountered on remote teams. Part 1 was focused on getting your virtual team aligned, Part 2 on building cohesion, and Part 3 on creating disciplined team processes.
Today's post is focused on remote team leadership.
Leadership on any team is important, and the foundational things that leaders do - like establishing goals, creating an environment of open communication and trust, providing performance feedback, and recognizing people - are all applicable to managing remote teams. But, in the absence of being co-located with team members, leaders have to make an extra effort to align their team, build cohesion, and engage and cultivate their people.
Here are some ideas.
- Lead by example. Yes, this is leadership 101 and you have probably heard it 1,000 times already. But, from a remote team perspective you have fewer opportunities to be "visible" with your team members. So, you have to be very intentional about modeling the way and walking the walk. For example, it might be something simple like being committed to team meetings that you are asking others to commit to (and that means scheduling customer visits around your team meetings instead of the other way around). There are a thousand ways to lead by example, even from a distance.
- Communicate important items directly. One of the common mistakes leaders make is leading by email (or other technology) instead of by example. When you have important information to share with a team member, do it directly - and on most virtual teams that means by phone. It's ok to communicate general project or team information via the shared drive or email or your collaboration tool, but if you have something important to say, pick up the phone.
- Conduct informal one-on-ones. Every leader should be conducting monthly one-on-ones with direct reports. On virtual teams, the most effective leaders make an effort to increase that frequency to once a week. It's easy to let these slip when everything is a priority. But, one-on-ones are even more important on remote teams. They open the lines of communication, provide you an opportunity to give feedback and offer recognition, and show your interest in your remote team member's well being.
- Recognize and reward. Recognition when done correctly is a powerful accelerator of business results. But when team members aren't around on a daily basis, it is easy to let recognition slip. Leaders can be more intentional about their recognition efforts by keeping a recognition log to ensure they are consistently recognizing their people when they see actions that are aligned with their team's goals, values, and culture.
- Build a sense community. Social networking proves that people can connect with each other virtually and feel a sense of community. Find opportunities for your team members to share personal experiences, build trust, and find a higher purpose in working together.
The challenges on remote teams, or virtual teams, are real, and the added complexity of not being physically present with other team members can amplify communication breakdowns. But it doesn't have to be that way. With an intentional focus on aligning people, building cohesion, implementing disciplined processes, and focusing on leadership, virtual teams can harness the potential of their people and be successful.