Note: This is the second post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:
- Part 1: Connect & Build Relationships
- Part 3: Perfect Team Communications
- Part 4: Acquire and Develop the “Right” Talent
Part 2: Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
I’m relaxing on the couch browsing my evening news feed, while occasionally peeping over at my youngest son (Jacob) who is playing the memory game Simon. I notice he’s not paying much attention, lacks engagement, and is only making it to Rounds 3 or 4 each time.
I put my phone down and lock eyes with him. Without exchanging any words, Jacob knows I’m going to give his next attempt my sole focus. He perks up, smiles and then the colors and beeps begin. He makes it 9 rounds this time! Granted, occasionally he asked me for help during those rounds, but he got there…we got there. During his previous attempts, I was there, but I wasn’t present.
Leadership presence. This is the focus of Part 2 of 4 in our “Leading a Virtual Team” series. As with all topics we are exploring during this series, they apply to all leaders – not just those of virtual teams; however, we are diving into them through the lens of a virtual leader.
What do we need from our leaders in the workplace? Historically, and now thankfully archaically, it was things like very specific direction, punch lists and tracking records, 1x per year reviews, etc. Luckily the workplace environment has evolved, and thus the role of organizational leaders has changed.
Let’s take a look at what your virtual team needs to “feel” from you as their leader and how you can establish a consistent leadership presence for them in these three critical areas.
- Motivation & Recognition
Establishing a strong presence in these areas doesn’t get accomplished through regular conference calls where you punch through to-do lists and share updates. Below are a few things you can try to grow your presence in these three areas for your virtual team. It is then that you will become their valued leader and not just a manager who they have to dial into each week to touch base.
Regularly remind the team of the future vision. Articulate it in a compelling and inspirational way. I know, hard to do virtually, but entirely possible.
Time to tap into the right side of your brain! Rely on new media – infographics, video, images, audio. Start a virtual Vision Board that you and your team can add to whenever you come across something that speaks to where you are heading; what your ultimate aim is. Pinterest might be a good platform for this (read this article for more info), or you might already be using some type of online community with functionality that would enable you to create this.
You could also start a YouTube channel and/or blog that becomes an inspirational forum, where content is very much future-oriented. Quotes, little nuggets from a recent business trip, a TED Talk you want to share, etc. Just make sure you keep it focused on a consistent message of where you’re heading as a team or organization – to develop a belief in and excitement for the future.
Motivation & Recognition
Each one of your team members has unique motivators. Invest the time to learn what their “carrots” are and dangle them throughout the race. A few motivators and forms of recognition to consider for your virtual team are:
- Sending hand written thank-you notes to their home (be specific about what behaviors you’re thankful for)
- Sending gifts that are meaningful to them (hence the need to spend the time learning what they like) – flowers, tickets to a local sporting event in their city, gift cards, spa retreat day, charitable donation on their behalf, etc.
- If you have a *healthy* competitive environment amongst the team, consider using a leaderboard or other digital gamification techniques for certain projects/initiatives
- You’re not around to pop your head into their cube and say “nice job” after a presentation, so after you hang up with the client, pick your phone back up and call them to say “nice job.” Or use a team Chat forum to send the same message. Point being – take an extra minute of your day to reach out virtually with a simple pat on the back.
- Take personal note of your employees’ birthdays and send birthday cake to their home. Make it a tradition to leave a voicemail of a version of Happy Birthday by an artist or music genre that would resonate with that person (click here for an example). It’s the little things. Make sure you send enough birthday cake for the entire family if they live with others.
- After a long week, send them a note at 3:00 on Friday telling everyone to log off and that happy hour or Friday Night Family Night is on you. Allow them to expense their Friday evening shenanigans to the boss! (within reason of course)
- Consider offering a Dream Manager program to your employees. This could easily be supported virtually.
Adopt a servant leadership mindset. Your role is to align, develop and engage your team members and ensure their ultimate success with the organization. Implement the following practices to serve as a constant source of support during their tenure:
- Hold a weekly one-on-one via webcam with each of your direct reports. (I very much believe that using a webcam is critical in building a virtual leadership presence with your team.) Unless an apocalypse is upon us, don’t cancel these weekly touch points or move them around.
- Always ask, “What can I do to help?” and/or “What do you need from me to be successful this week?” during your discussion.
- Set aside separate monthly coaching calls (using webcam as well). Focus this time on discussing career development plans, performance feedback, where they want to grow expertise in their field, etc. Distinguish this from your weekly touch points. Make them feel different. If you worked in an office with your team, you might make your coaching sessions feel different by holding them at a local coffee shop. Virtually, you can make them feel different by holding them on a different day of the week and time of day than your regular weekly calls. You can even hold them in the morning from a coffee shop; you’ll just be at two different coffee shops. Point being – do something with the virtual environment that distinguishes these coaching conversations from your regular weekly dialogue. It will enhance the quality of the conversation.
They need to feel your presence in these three areas regularly…not just on “slow” weeks when you happen to have the time to focus on it (this is actually probably the least valuable time for them to feel your presence). Build it into your regular interactions with the team and watch performance BOOM! Jacob’s performance increased by nearly 200%. Imagine the possibilities.
Continue to follow along in this series and add your insights and experiences in the Comments section below. Here are the next two strategies we’ll explore, so stay tuned!
- Perfect Team Communications
- Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent for Virtual Teams
It has become the norm to find ourselves on a virtual team, and many of us are leading those teams. A friend of mine reached out recently asking for advice on this topic. She finds it challenging to inspire, engage and drive high performance from her dining room table. And I’d venture to bet she’s not alone.
As this is a highly relevant and critical topic for many, I have separated it into a series of posts over the next 4 weeks. I’ll focus on one overarching strategy per week, giving you time to devote attention to each one and consider how you might implement the suggestions with your team. Below are the four focus areas we’ll cover:
- Connect & Build Relationships
- Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
- Perfect Team Communications
- Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent for Virtual Teams
Please share your own experiences and advice throughout this series. I am certainly not the only one who can weigh in on this topic! Use the Comments section to connect with others throughout the series.
Here we go with Strategy #1 for acing your role as a virtual leader…
Connect & Build Relationships
First and foremost, it’s about relationships. Humans have an innate need to connect with one another, and this doesn’t go away when working on a virtual team. However, it is far too easy to treat relationships as transactional in the virtual world. We can “hide” in our home office, complete our 5 tasks for the day, and then head out for happy hour with our local friends, who we don’t work with. This has created efficiencies in some areas, but any productivity gains you realize are at high risk of being reversed due to lack of loyalty and engagement.
Make sure you are connecting regularly with your virtual team, and make sure your team is connecting regularly with one another. When I say “connecting,” I mean everything from asking about their weekend and engaging in friendly banter about the upcoming SuperBowl, to sharing client successes and challenges and ideating around future offerings. It needs to be both social and work-related. Why? Because the stronger our personal relationships are with one another, the stronger our business relationships will be. It will increase levels of trust and the influence you have on one another.
Think about this – who would you bend over backwards for at work? It’s likely someone who you know on a deeper level, and not just superficially through occasional work-related encounters. You need to build relationships with one another. Real relationships. Have names, faces, likes, dislikes, strengths, limitations, emotions. It’s not just “fluff” to connect socially with one another; it’s a business imperative.
Here’s an experiment – watch the video below.
Has watching that video put a voice behind these characters on the screen? A passion for this topic, possibly luring you to read on? Think about how to create this same human connection on a consistent basis amongst the virtual team you lead.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the importance of connecting your virtual team with each other and building meaningful relationships. Below are a few ideas of how you can do that. Please share any others you can contribute to this discussion!
|1. As just demonstrated, turn your webcams on! Google Hangouts and Chat make it very easy to connect via webcams throughout the day as needs arise. Take advantage of the free tools that are out there.|
|2. Establish 1 hour each week in an informal “chat room” setting to share what’s going well, where people are having challenges, etc. Keep it a consistent, recurring appointment on everyone’s calendar and support its importance as the team leader. Recognize and reward team members when displaying the types of behaviors you wish to gain through this forum (sharing resources, collaboratively solving problems, collectively ideating on a topic). I would not overly-structure this forum, but I would ensure that it’s valuable time spent. It might require some prodding and light structure initially, but then I think you’ll see it being largely self-run by the team once they get into a groove. Consider giving it a catchy title like Team60, Monday Round-Up, Hump Day Happenings…|
|3. Create a private Facebook page (for use during the work day too…this is their water cooler!). Model the way by being an active participant on the page yourself. Alternatively, you could create a team-specific hashtag on Twitter. What’s important is that you use the social media channel that the majority of your team is already using and is most comfortable with. That way, team happenings and collaboration just become part of their regular news feed. Discuss with your team to determine the best channel.|
|4. Spend the first 5 minutes of your weekly team meetings doing a “Round Robin” on a selected topic, such as:
Placing a time cap on this part of your meeting will help keep it efficient. You could even gamify it a bit by putting up a digital clock on your web conferencing screen.
|5. Create greater awareness of and transparency around team members and team dynamics, using tools such as (just to name a few):
The most important piece here is that you are creating a greater awareness of individual strengths, communication preferences, conflict styles, thought processes, values, etc. and then purposefully modifying your interactions with one another accordingly to enhance overall team dynamics and outcomes.
|6. Convene in person. I know this post is focused on virtual team leadership, but to have a really strong team you have to leverage face-to-face, live interaction whenever possible. I recommend doing this during the initial onboarding of a new team member, and then at regular pre-established offsites during the year. I would convene the entire team annually at minimum, but bi-annually if budget and logistics allow.I spent 2 days in Pittsburgh with a team from Australia that I was working with a few years ago. Those are the only 2 days we have ever spent together in person, but to this day my relationships with those colleagues are stronger than anyone else I work with in the APAC region. Trust me, it’s worth the time and investment.What should you do when you convene? Anything that is more effective in-person (i.e., leave day-to-day tactics and operations out of it):
|7. Virtual Philanthropy – Empower each of your team members to lead a philanthropic effort of their choice, virtually of course, and rotate on a quarterly basis. This could be contributing to a team blog to raise awareness of a particular issue/cause; collecting videos from each team member to send into their local Children’s hospital to brighten someone’s day; organizing a food or toy drive with shipments all coming into their home address and sharing final stats and pictures of your drop-off; hosting a virtual walk-a-thon or 5K at lunch one day with everyone getting sponsors and then sharing pictures from their afternoon jog, etc. Possibilities here are endless! Leave it up to the creativity of your team to decide what they want to do.|
Remember to continue to follow this series and contribute your expertise on this topic. I will post additional Virtual Leadership strategies each week for the next three weeks. Here are the next 3 strategies we’ll explore, so stay tuned!
Local HR guru Steve Browne (@sbrownehr) is hosting the Carnival of HR this week and has asked HR bloggers from around the globe to write about the following theme: “HR would be better if…” All posts must be in by January 14, so here we go (1.5 hours to spare)!
Then go for a walk outside in the cold and crisp, yet therapeutic fresh air. Clear your mind. Breathe.
When you return, clear off a large space on your desk, break out an old-school pad of paper and pen, and reflect on the following questions:
1. What am I doing?
2. Why am I doing it?
3. What is the desired result? How am I helping the business succeed?
4. Do I have to be doing it this way? Is there a different way? A better way? A more efficient way? A more engaging way? A more impactful way?
5. If so, who or what can I learn from, connect with, leverage to get us there?
6. What will success look like? When/how often will I measure? Am I open to changing course midway? Am I okay with failing? How will I respond to failure?
7. At the end of the day, what am I doing to enhance the quality of our employees’ work lives? To make it more enjoyable? More fulfilling? What am I doing to restore humanity in the workplace? #YOLO
Now you’re ready to make a big, no GINORMOUS impact.
P.S. If your boss and co-workers give you funny looks for walking around the parking lot in the middle of January, ask them to join you next time. They’ll see the light. And your organization will be better.
What is a Blogging Carnival?
Taken straight from the Carnival of HR’s website: “A blogging carnival is a social media meme in which a group of bloggers submit blog posts to a “host” who compiles the posts into one collection that they then publish on their site on the prearranged day. The posts and bloggers are generally focused on an similar area of interest, such as Human Resources, and may or may not have a theme which unites the posts on a specific question or topic.”
It started over a latte at Coffee Please in Madeira. I was with two other women catching up on life – work, loved ones, real estate, local happenings…the usual. As the discussion shifted over to the Cincinnati Chamber’s WE Lead program, of which one of the women is a current class member, Rita chimed in:
“I would love to go through that program. I’ve heard about the Vision Boards they create, and I’ve always wanted to make one for myself.”
I shared that I created a Vision Board about seven years ago through a leadership program. I enjoyed the experience and kept it visible at my desk for years. Mine was definitely in need of a refresh though.
“Would you do one with me?” Rita asked. “The thought of siting alone with magazines, scissors and glue sticks is very uninspiring.”
I enthusiastically responded with, “Yes, absolutely!”
Later on that day, I received an email from Rita that kicked-off the planning process. The date, time and approach were all confirmed. We had decided to each invite an eclectic and “not-previously-connected” group to what had now become a Vision Board Party.
Fast-forward 1 month. I am sitting amongst 8 other women, most of whom don’t know each other, in Rita’s family room on a Saturday morning sharing coffee, mimosas, bagels and aspirations.
Rita wanted a Vision Board, so Rita threw a Vision Board Party.
Beyond the Vision Board: Lessons Learned
As I reflect on not only that morning at Rita’s home, but the entire chain of events leading up to it, I can’t help but glean some key take-aways from the experience as a whole:
1. Be intentional – You create the life you live.
Rita went from thinking about something she’s always wanted to do, to sharing that thought with others, to turning those thoughts into action. Isn’t it amazing how we can set our own course in life and create our own outcomes?
To add parody to the situation, this aim to be more intentional is also exactly what all of us sat down to do that morning. We considered our answers to questions such as:
- What do you want to be known for? What mark do you want to leave on the world when you’re no longer here?
- Why type of person do you want to be?
- Who do you admire and why?
- What are your passions? Do you fill them through work? Play?
I had an experience the same exact week that played out completely differently. I facilitated a Critical Thinking workshop for one of my clients in West Virginia. During the workshop, I was working with a breakout of four Case Managers and trying to get them to think more critically about some of the problems they face at work.
One of them told me that this exercise wasn’t applicable to her because everything she does is dictated by policy. I poked a bit and unveiled that one of her issues is when clients don’t meet state-regulated deadlines. She said, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s mandated by the state,” with her arms fairly tightly crossed and a rather unpleasant look on her face. I asked how clients are educated about those standards. She said they are told several times during their meetings. I kept pushing though…to get her to think more creatively, to uncover the root of the problem, and identify action steps she can take to change the outcomes of this situation.
Reading over the workshop evaluations, I came across two very contrasting and interesting comments:
- “Critical thinking is good, but when in a case manager’s position, it doesn’t really make a difference because we go by policy.”
- “Critical thinking is a big part of being a case manager.”
Are you approaching life with the mindset of being intentional about setting your own course, or with the mindset of having to work with what life has “handed” you? I’m thinking Rita would probably get along well with the person in West Virginia who wrote the second comment.
2. When you’re stuck, reach out for help.
Rita had been working her way through the book My Life Map by Kate and David Marshall. Several of the questions I listed above came from this book, so definitely check it out if any of those strike a chord with you. She reached the point in the book where she needed to map out her future, and she found it very difficult. She’s always had a hard time thinking about what she wants her future to look like, and determining how to get there.
This process was made easier for her by reaching out and involving others. She vulnerably exposed a personal challenge to those around her. When you find yourself in a rut or stuck on something, don’t quit. Just reach out for help.
3. Take a chance and don’t be afraid of what others might think.
I certainly thought to myself (and I’m sure Rita did too), “Are people going to think I’m nuts inviting them to a Vison Board Party on a Saturday morning? I’m sure they’d all much rather spend their time in other ways.” OH WELL, we had to quickly kick that thought out of our heads. If people thought we were crazy or just weren’t interested, there was certainly no obligation to come. So happy we didn’t stop there.
4. Your energy and commitment are contagious.
At the end of the day, Rita was not the only one being intentional about her future. Though not originally what she set out to do, eight other women were involved in the process. I, for one, am grateful that her commitment to this goal spread into my world. Know that your energy and commitments – both positive and unfortunately also negative – spread like wildfire to those around you.
We grossly underestimated the time a Vision Board would take to complete. After about 3 hours, we realized that we had only gotten so far as cutting out our clippings, and we unfortunately had to move on to other Saturday activities.
But as with all good things in life, they typically don’t come easy. It takes hard work…and persistence. I happened to finish mine later that evening next to a crackling fire with beer in hand, but it was now up to each one of us to continue to work on what we had started. And most importantly, to turn our visions into reality!
Thank you Rita – for your vision and persistence, and that coffee date in Madeira…
I like my V8 V-Fusion® + Energy pomegranate drink around 2:00 p.m. in my Bengals tumbler with ice (crushed, not cubed), with some Smart Pop on the side. It’s just what I need to plow through what would otherwise be drowsy afternoon hours and get some serious work done.
It makes me feel creative.
It makes me feel confident about the work I’m producing.
It makes me feel happy (…and sometimes feeling “happy” goes a long way).
At initial glance, it appears to just be some liquid, a cup, and a few kernels. But no – it’s so much more. It’s an EXPERIENCE, and an experience that actually alters my behaviors, attitude and output.
I’m sure everyone can think of a similar experience that makes you feel a certain way – maybe it’s that first sip of coffee in the morning, that brand new “A Game” outfit you put on to knock your sales presentation out of the park, or maybe it’s the tranquility of your favorite cocktail glass in front of the fire at the end of a long day.
We invest a lot into the experience consumers have with our products and services. There are entire marketing strategies designed around it, product and brand managers focused on it every single day (and whose bonus depends on it!), and researchers continuously testing to measure effectiveness and resulting consumer behavior.
Why? Because the way something makes us feel alters our behaviors, attitude and output. This includes decisions we make about the products and services we choose to engage with.
Let’s switch gears now and think about the employee experience inside your organization’s four walls (or multitude of continents, or virtual platforms, or in whatever form your organization exists). What have you invested internally to support a positive employee experience? Have you developed a strategy (what kind of experience do you want them to have in the first place)? Do you have a team and budget to execute on the strategy? Who are your “researchers” and what continuous metrics do you have in place?
Being intentional about proactively creating the experience your employees have while working for you will result in the behaviors, attitudes and output you desire from your team. After all, our employees – just like our consumers – are human. The way they feel at any moment in time affects their behavior.
So how can you make sure they’re feeling the way you want them to? Follow these five steps:
1. Identify how you want your employees to feel at work. Every organization is different, so define what’s right for you based on the needs of your business strategy.
2. Audit current versus desired feelings to identify where there are gaps (this can be done a number of ways – via survey, focus groups, observations, interviews, etc.).
3. Develop a plan to create an employee experience that yields the desired feelings you’ve identified in Step 1, now being informed of the gaps via Step 2. Consider elements such as:
- Physical office environment (colors, work spaces, lighting, wall hangings, furniture, etc.)
- Management and leadership – what “type” of leaders are you acquiring and building in order to support this experience? (Watch this video to learn more about the vital role organizational leaders play in creating the “smell of the place.”)
- Opportunities to connect/collaborate (both professionally and socially)
- Levels of autonomy and empowerment to make decisions
- Core values and how they’re brought to life during your daily operations
- Flexibility in how work gets done
- Continuous learning and professional development
4. Identify the resources (material, people, and financial) needed to support the plan.
5. Execute the plan, measure regularly, and tweak as needed.
Don’t just let the experience “happen.” Just like you do with your customers, be intentional about creating the type of employee experience that is going to foster high levels of engagement, collaboration, innovation, loyalty, and ultimately performance and results. Otherwise, you can throw your best consumer experience strategy out the window! It starts at home.
This post strays a little bit from my normal blogging, but it’s been something on my mind lately that I need to hash out on my keyboard.
We have a problem with trust in organizations today. Nothing earth shattering about that statement. I personally believe it’s closely connected (unfortunately) to a much larger issue of trust in today’s world. I can’t blame anyone for feeling this widespread lack of trust. Our trust has been broken…too many times in recent years…often by tragic events…leaving us feeling vulnerable, yet also determined to look out for ourselves and those we love the most. This sometimes comes at the expense of not developing relationships with those we don’t know.
The larger issue of lack of trust in today’s world deserves its own series of blog posts (and more!) that I cannot provide, nor am I qualified to provide. What I can do though is reflect on how I’ve seen this lack of trust play out in organizational life and offer at least one suggestion for how we can start making it better.
I’ve been working in some facet of organizational development for more than 10 years, most recently running an OD consulting practice. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with organizations of all different sizes, industries and global footprints, and I can say that all of them (and they would agree) could benefit from making one thing a priority:
Developing the ability within their employees to have honest conversations with each other.
Honest conversations. They’re not easy. If they were, we wouldn’t have so many performance issues, miscommunication, ambiguous expectations and unclear definitions of success. As a consultant, I’ve seen this play out in a different light than when I was working inside organizations. I’m now hearing the honest conversations as an unbiased third party, but I’m the wrong person for them to be directed to.
One of many things we can do to increase levels of trust within our organizations is to start being honest with each other. We have to start somewhere, and I believe one place we can all make a difference is by making a personal commitment to have honest conversations with our colleagues, managers, and team members.
Try it this week. I venture to bet you’ll feel a sense of relief and will also realize more constructive outcomes than you’ve possibly had in years. What’s holding you back? Let’s work together to reframe our discussions in the workplace. Back to the basics with this one. #honesty
Let me set the scene. 90 degrees. Loads of humidity. Not an ounce of shade on 100 yards of turf, encircled by a dark black track. Only four players on the Bears show up for a game against the #2 team, the Bengals. Oh…and they’re all 4 and 5-year-olds.
This was my view at McNich’s athletic field in Cincinnati on Sunday as my oldest son attended his final flag football game of the season. Little did I know that I was about to witness a classic case of DISENGAGEMENT and the effects it has on TEAM PERFORMANCE.
My son loves football…lives it, breathes it, says the words Who Dey more than any other term between September and January every year. He looks forward to his flag football game each week and always gives it his all.
This Sunday was different. A few of the players on his team were just not feelin’ it…for whatever reason (remember – they’re only 4 and 5-years-old). Ben’s smiles and excitement quickly turned to a pretty grim looking face. He was starting to let the heat of the day and the morale of the team get to him, and it was changing the type of player he decided to be on the field that day.
Your disengaged employees will bring down your team far easier and quicker than your greatest cheerleader can ever build them up.
It’s just human nature. It’s easier for us to gravitate toward negativity. We get sucked in. That disengaged mindset can even creep over into the minds, and ultimately behaviors, of some of your most engaged employees. And it doesn’t take long. Eventually, collective team performance suffers.
The Bears lost the game against the Bengals Sunday. But it doesn’t have to end that way.
I’ve written previously about how individuals can take ownership of their own engagement, and I’ve also written about what an organization can do to build an engaged workforce. There’s a third player in this mix though, and that’s the manager, or whoever is in that “team lead” role. It’s a shared responsibility amongst all three parties to build a culture of engagement in your workplace.
These tips are for that third party. What could you have done to turn that game around on Sunday and ensure a strong team performance in the end?
1. Identify the disengagement. Keep your eyes and ears open and know when someone on your team is disengaged. Acknowledgement is a critical first step.
2. Uncover the root cause. Identifying the disengagement only goes so far. It’s your job to understand what is causing it. You can do this through something as formal as an engagement survey or as informal as an open and transparent conversation. During this stage, make sure you seek to understand. Actively listen. Resist the temptation to jump to your own conclusions. The reason for the disengagement could span a large host of underlying causes, such as:
- Poor job/role fit
- A wavering trust in leadership
- The perception of having no growth at the company
- Not feeling recognized for their work
- Lack of understanding of how what they do every day aligns with what the organization is trying to achieve
3. Address the root cause. Now it’s time to act. Once you identify the root cause, collaboratively build action plans around it that everyone has bought into and can own. One cause of disengagement on the football field that day was the heat. In response, we poured ice cold water over the players’ heads. Please don’t pour ice cold water on your employees, but hopefully you get my point.
4. Measure and re-assess. As with anything, monitor progress. Have check points along the way, and initiate more of that open and transparent communication about the results you’re seeing, whether positive or negative. Alter the course of action if it’s not working.
Bottom line – when you see disengagement amongst your team, tackle it head on (no pun intended!). Don’t let it fester. Your team will thank you.
Need help working through the four steps listed above? Reach out, and I’d love to help you and your team through the process.