How to manage virtual teams effectively

Virtual management is about managing people remotely within the same and/or different time zone. The challenges include emotional and operational feelings of disconnect, unclear ways of working, communication problems and moving from management by observation to managing results.

You will assume a better control if you manage three different areas of virtual management:

  • The results (the Why)
  • The process (the How) and
  • The relationships (the Who).

Managing results aims for the goal and the execution of the strategy.

The process part aims for maximising predictability.

The relationship is about generating feelings of value, inclusion and safety.

In the normal office context, the process and the relationship issues are sorted out on the fly at the coffee table and over lunch.

But in the virtual team, you need to manage all of these separately and also as an orchestrated stream. To conclude, as the team leader, you must invest in

  • Leading towards results, but also
  • Defining and managing how the team members work and
  • Helping them get along and connect with you and each other.

Effective virtual teams are managed by results, the process and the relationships

Results: there are a ton of material about managing results so I will skip that and concentrate on the two others. However, having managed several virtual teams myself, I’ll just say this: with new teams, you can observe and control the completion of individual tasks by individual team members in the beginning. Once you begin to see their pattern of behaviour, you can move more towards managing results. Secondly: you should manage the achieving of specific targets, of course, but also apply coaching style of management, where you strive to understand what information they use to continually improve without direct supervision. Here, you can apply the principles of Operational Excellence.

The Process management part is about increasing predictability and influence. Those you can increase by for example, ensuring that the participants of a virtual meeting know what the objective of the meeting is and what is expected of them. This will engage participants and reduce their urge to multitask.

You can increase influence by increasing agreement. Check understanding with proposals, such as: “So do you mean that . . . ?”, “Just to confirm, can you repeat your understanding of what I just said?”. Go for explicit verbal agreements on any decision. Do not assume silence equals agreement.

Some practical Do:s for successful virtual teams, Part 1:

  • Do select the virtual meeting tool according to the meeting objective
  • Do test connections before important meetings
  • Do ensure the microphones and speakers are appropriately placed. Confirm all participant reception in the beginning.
  • Do learn how to mute yourself if there is background noise
  • Do learn how to mute others when a baby / a dog / a jackhammer is firing away in someone’s background
  • Do prepare for meetings: provide all material in advance
  • Be aware of presentation style issues that are not conducive to teleconferencing (i.e. pointing to slide)
  • Do begin new initiatives by exchanging ideas without criticism. Do not ignore any question or proposal
  • Do summarise the discussion in a shareable document
  • Do track member comments
  • Do reference others’ sayings in discussions
  • Do acknowledge receipt of messages
  • Do agree on communication channels and define response rules
  • Do agree on activities and meet deadlines
  • Do not argue about the content when the process is the issue
  • Do not refer excessively to technical difficulties as an excuse for low participation

Last, the Relationship management

Relationship management is a function of trust, appreciation, empathy and rapport.

Trust: increase trust through transparency. For example, vocally express the rationale for your actions and decisions. It’s ok to think aloud (“I’m trying to figure out . . . and right now I’m thinking that . . . “). Communicate regularly both what’s known and what’s not known.

Appreciation: focus on what’s working and express that frequently. Say “thank you” more – and call out team members by name. Learn what matters to the people with whom you work and begin meetings with relationship-building conversations.

Empathy: actively listen and express acceptance of questions, challenges and differing opinions. Share your own feelings about facing uncertain situations. Be yourself.

Rapport: share personal information about yourself. Enjoy relationship-building activities not specifically related to getting work done.

Some further Do:s, Part 2

  • Do use all members’ names in greetings
  • Do solicit team members’ feedback on process
  • Do get permission for risky humour
  • Do disclose appropriate personal information
  • Do describe context in detail
  • Do apologize for mistakes
  • Do volunteer for roles
  • Do acknowledge role assignments
  • Do exchange alternative methods of contact when projects are finished
  • Do not assume team’s ongoing understanding of any rule
  • Do not give mailing addresses to external people for sending messages to the team without permission
  • Do not ignore members’ offer to perform a task
  • Do not flame or use sarcastic language
  • Do not use little understood humour or terms

So there you go.

It’s the little practical things, when accumulated, that matter.

Want more? HBR has an article about effective collaboration in remote teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *