Team leadership is now even more challenging than ever, with the dynamics that took place in the past few months after the outbreak of COVID-19 Pandemic, the usual in the office team has transferred into a virtual team, creating more challenging tasks for the team leaders to keep their teams on task.
Executives who lead international teams or project managers with international participation often face great challenges when it comes to adequate leadership tools to lead from a distance and virtually successfully. Since you are not in the same building as the employees, face-to-face meetings, and staff appraisals, which normally take place regularly on site, are not possible.
New forms of cooperation that are no longer bound to one location are created more and more often, even beyond company boundaries. Due to external influences such as the current challenges caused by the corona virus and the associated – legal – restrictions in the working environment, working in virtual teams is becoming a necessity. This demands a great deal from managers in particular.
Leadership in virtual teams is an opportunity to develop one’s own skills and those of the team members in a new context.
After all, it is about supporting employees in their initiative, thereby promoting self-organization, and stimulating self-motivation, highlighting successful examples in a clever way, and seeing the team in its productivity as a whole.
Virtual teamwork is always associated with difficulties. So how can an efficient virtual exchange be achieved in order to work successfully in a team?
1. Functioning technology
The technical infrastructure and equipment must function perfectly. Because if the sound jerks at every virtual meeting or the Internet breaks down during file upload, nobody can work well. Employees in Germany waste around 20 working days every year because they are bothered by the technology in their company. That is annoying enough with traditional teams. But anyone who depends on digital communication for their work must be able to rely on a functioning technology. Otherwise the frustration among the employees increases. If the technology does not work, a virtual team cannot work.
2. Clear goals and rules
If you want to lead a virtual team, you need to set clear goals and rules. Because if you cannot talk to each other on the fly, you have to keep appointments, agreements and deadlines. In addition, there should be a distinct feedback culture throughout the company. This applies both to the employees and to the boss, who must also accept criticism from his employees. It is therefore important to agree on who will take on which tasks and how the progress of a project will be measured. The responsibilities of the individual team members should be precisely defined, as ambiguities slow down virtual teamwork. Each team member should know when and how to reach the others. It should also be clear to all team members who reports to whom, who informs whom, and who has access to which files. Fixed daily or weekly appointments, where the whole team meets virtually, also help to structure teamwork. Virtual teams need clear rules and fixed agreements.
3. Sufficient trust
But although clear rules and clear objectives are needed, the principle of trust instead of control applies. Because employees in the home office must act more independently than employees whose boss sits in the office next door. And if the boss asks himself all the time whether his employees are diligent, he himself will not come to work. Even sufficient praise should not be neglected at a distance. Managers should make an effort to give positive feedback regularly. When employees are in different places, the most important thing is trust.
4. The right employees
For the success of a remote team not only the boss is crucial. Because not everyone is equally suited to working in virtual teams. For one thing, of course, a high level of digital affinity is required. If you do not feel like dealing with web conferences and project management tools, you might want to sit at a traditional office desk. On the other hand, a high level of digital know-how is not yet the key to success for collaboration. Remote workers often have to struggle with loneliness and find it difficult to separate work and private life. They are under the pressure of constant availability. For a successful cooperation it is crucial that all team members enjoy and communicate a lot with each other. They should have fun logging in to the chat and seeking contact with other colleagues. If all team members are alone at their desks, it will be difficult to work together effectively. Managers should therefore make sure that the employee is suitable for virtual collaboration. Remote teams need employees who develop their own solutions and still seek close contact with their colleagues.
5. Meet virtually
Since the personal contact and therefore also the personal four-eye-meeting in the office is omitted, it is very important to have individual conversations by phone or video tool. On site you can see how the people are doing, how they feel, how they work. With virtual leadership they have to communicate more and ask more questions.
6. Room for informal exchange
Remote teams lack the chat next to the coffee machine and the shared after- work beer. A common slack group and a weekly meeting with Skype do not make a team out of scattered employees. Managers of remote teams must therefore create enough space for informal exchange. For web meetings, for example, allow a few minutes for small talk. How was the weekend? Where is the next holiday going? What did you have for lunch? All topics that are talked about before a normal meeting can also be discussed on Skype. There should also be room in the chat for a nice chat on the side or funny things from the internet. If you use a wiki, every employee could create a profile with for example a photo, hobbies and favorite color. This builds a small bridge between the job and private life.
Some fundamental errors to be avoided when leading remote working teams:
1. Incredible variety of tools and applications
There are thousands of collaboration and communication tools on the market. And every program can do something that another program cannot. It could become a big problem without starting a precise strategy and spontaneously deciding on any application.
It is not easy to say which program is best for you. But if the various tools do not mesh or can’t be integrated into the existing IT system architecture, chaos quickly ensues. The consequences are inefficient cooperation and frustration. Only very few companies have complete collaboration solutions to date.
2. Lack of support from the company
If you are faced with the decision to lead a remote team, you should make sure that the entire company is behind the decision. If only part of the team is in the home office and the rest of the team is in the office, it is important that all employees want and support virtual collaboration. Because it can be exhausting. At the management level it must be clear that investments will also be necessary: better technology, new programs. And the other members of the team must also stand behind the remote employees. During telephone conferences, no one must be forgotten.
3. Insufficient onboarding and training
Especially with remote employees you should think about onboarding and training. They should be extremely organized and provide regular support in the initial period. Prepare training materials and collect all important information in a virtual place that everyone can access. Give your new remote employees the feeling that they can ask for anything at any time. Especially in the beginning, there must be close contact between you and your employees.
4. Technical requirements
These are the technical requirements that must be met by high-speed Internet, telephone or video conferences and also online-based solutions for working together. If there are technical problems, the in-house IT department will take care of them on site. With virtual teams, the employee himself is in demand.
5. Ergonomic requirements
Home workstations often do not meet the minimum ergonomic requirements regarding work surface, illuminance, or glare. However, federal and state offices as well as trade unions provide checklists to check these.
6. Organizational problems
In virtual teams, there is an enormous need for communication so that everyone involved is always up to date, new developments are known immediately and can be reacted to accordingly. If the organization goes wrong because clear responsibilities and goals are missing, the team members do not work with each other, but rather past each other.
7. Perceived loss of control
The idea of having to relinquish control is difficult for some bosses. It is not possible to just drop by the office under an excuse. They have to trust that the employees will do their job. That is why it’s not so much a question of concrete time frames, but rather of the results that are expected within a certain period of time.
8. Social isolation
Working as part of a virtual team means the absence of physical presence. You may know your colleagues, but you meet them much less often than colleagues in non-virtual teams. Some employees need the direct exchange in order not to become lonely.
9. Individual skills
Employees of virtual teams require nothing less than exceptionally good self-organization, communication skills and intercultural competence.
Let’s have a look now, what are the main tasks of the team leader in a virtual team?
“Stay in touch, communicate well and don’t let anything burn” is a motto that sums up the task of the virtual team leader quite well. The spatial separation makes it necessary to pay much more attention to the three points mentioned.
1. Clear announcements, clear expectations
Communication in a virtual team may be a little more explicit and detailed. Insinuations and concerns that are hidden “between the lines” often do not come across as they are meant, and the team leader lacks the direct feedback channel to verify it. Not only in remote teams – but specifically here – a clear communication is absolutely critical for the success of the team. The clearer you communicate, the more you limit the room for interpretation, the higher the chance that your counterpart understands what you want and can then take the actions you expect. This saves you a lot of time that you would otherwise need to readjust, i.e. to correct the employee again and again, which leads to frustration on both sides. How often in my consulting career have I experienced it when I was present at meetings that the manager did not communicate clearly to everyone what expectations he or she has of the individual team members. When I then asked both the manager and the employees after the meeting, it seemed as if they were not in the same meeting. Most of the content communicated by the manager and the content perceived by the employees were not identical.
This is absolutely terrifying. And in order to avoid exactly that, we will deal with how to make your meetings more efficient and thus significantly increase the performance of your team in the training and coaching sessions we offer. Your meetings have to be more inspiring (more inspiration than only information) and your team will be more engaged and actively participating. They have to understand exactly what your goals and expectations are, how they will achieve it and why. This will absolutely boost your performance. You have to recognize when a team member is not aligned so that you can immediately intervene positively before other team members are infected and team performance is negatively affected.
2. Free flow of information
All information necessary for a project should be freely accessible to all, preferably from the moment it is created. This has two advantages: Firstly, it allows inconsistencies and errors to be identified early enough to be ironed out. Secondly, this approach offers practical advantages for everyone. If each person conscientiously discharges his or her fetch debt with the information, everyone has the opportunity to discharge their fetch debt (to be informed) more easily. A central information repository, as offered by project management and collaboration tools, is clearly preferable to endless e-mail threads.
3. Furthermore, structural measures are indispensable
Fixing of schedules, scheduling of meetings, clarification of goals and responsibilities, determination of usual decision structures, target response time, visibility of individually assigned work orders and their processing status, milestone overview, feedback rounds (collective as well as individual), expected leadership tasks and participation rights as well as obligations, necessary use of technology, intended ways of conflict articulation and conflict regulation, group result saturated with individual results as (incentive) basis and more.
Whoever leads a remote team must think very carefully about his leadership style. But a virtual team does not have to be an obstacle to successful projects. If the conditions are right, virtual collaboration can even work better. Location-independent working creates spatially distributed teams that communicate with each other only virtually for long periods of time. When setting up and managing virtual teams, some special aspects should be taken into account.
In Pinnacle, our Learning and Development consultants have helped big, small and medium business, setting up their Organizational Development plans in different markets, regionally and globally, for the best state of the art virtual trainings and coaching.Building those capabilities into your team will eventually return with the productivity and collaboration you need for your teams to function and deliver business results. It is essential nowadays to give your team the skills, they need to work remotely and stay away from all the factors that will affect your performance
Pinnacle IT Infrastructure team will be designing, setting, managing the implementation of your digital platform for collaboration between your team, we will recommend the best tools to fit your business and needs.
Pinnacle is a multi-countries consultancy firm, our consultants are distributed around the world; we have built our organization on modern business model with agility, diversity, and resilience to the business dynamics, we have chosen our technology platform to support our modern mindset thus we work from anywhere …. As work is not a place anymore.
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