Leading a Virtual Team: Part 1 of 4

networkIt 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:

  1. Connect & Build Relationships
  2. Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
  3. Perfect Team Communications
  4. 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

Why?

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.

How?

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:

  • Top 3 lists, similar to a Letterman Top 10 (best clients and why, ingredients on a taco bar, movies on-demand, industry blogs, ideas for child birthday parties, etc.)
  • If I could be anywhere right now it would be…
  • Best food I’ve had this week was…
  • New LinkedIn connections to share
  • What I did to continue to develop myself last week (either personally or professionally)
  • What I want to stop hearing about in the news
  • What I couldn’t believe I heard about in the news
  • New charitable cause I’ve been following/supporting
  • Share a recipe – quick and easy

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): 

  • Gallup Strengths Finder – Have each team member take this assessment and share their Top 5 strengths with the group. Discuss how to best leverage the individual strengths on the team for greater collective team results. It’s only $10.00 USD per assessment. Click here to get started.
  • Wiley’s “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” Assessment (for use on intact teams; not brand new teams). Learn more here. This is an assessment that must be facilitated by a licensed provider. Contact Maggie Frye at maggie.frye@contact-core .com if you’re interested in discussing the potential of working with Core on this effort. Great tool for team buildings and offsites!
  • DiSC®personal “workplace personalities” assessment. This tool helps team members discover and value their behavioral differences, providing recommendations on how to work best with one another. Greater awareness of self and others will result. Learn more here. Again, Core can facilitate this process for you, so contact Maggie Frye at maggie.frye@contact-core .com to discuss. Great tool for team buildings and offsites!

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):

  • Socialize and have fun
  • Strategize and plan
  • Team build
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!

6 Commentsto Leading a Virtual Team: Part 1 of 4

  1. Mark Lewis says:

    Great post Maggie! This is very timely, I now manage is a team that is 75% remote (to me at least). Even then the folks that are in the local office only work in the office 2-3 days out of the week.

    One tool not mentioned that I find is useful is a group chat room. We use HipChat but there are others out there like Slack. Not only does this allow us to integrate different system notifications relevant to the team into the chat room but it allows the use of gif’s and has a large collection of quirky emoticons. This allow us to have ‘fun’ while working hard. Beyond Google+ Hangouts this has become one of the most important “team building” tools.

    I am looking forward to the new 3 parts of this series.

    • Maggie Frye says:

      Thanks so much for sharing those chat resources, Mark. That is very helpful I’m sure to many of the readers following this series. Thanks for joining in on the dialogue! Leading a virtual team is no easy feat for sure, so the more we can learn and grow together, the better we’ll be able to master the role.

  2. Doug says:

    Maggie,

    Chris S. shared this great post with me and I am so glad she did. You know my heart for remote employees and virtual work environments and anything I can consume only increases my passion for helping to create the most successful environment for employers and remote employees. Thanks for this post!

    • Maggie Frye says:

      Hi Doug! So glad to hear Chris connected you to this series. Please share your insights and expertise as we progress along! I’ll be making the next post within the next 1-2 days.

  3. […] This is the second post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. Click here to read the first post on “Connect & Build […]

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