Leading Your Virtual Team to Success

Leading Your Virtual Team to Success

July 15, 2015

Being in a managerial role can be tough enough, from having to develop team members, manage deadlines, lead meetings, initiate difficult conversations, and more, having your team in multiple locations can make it even harder. Virtual teams, those with people in different physical locations, are on the rise and can be hard to get right. But that’s not to say it can’t be done!

In fact, a study from BCG and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management found that well-managed, dispersed teams can actually outperform those in the same location. Similarly, an Aon Consulting report noted that using virtual teams can actually improve employee productivity; in fact, some organizations have seen gains of up to 43 percent!

So how do you, as a retail RD, create and lead an effective multi-location team? Here are some places to start:

First off, assess your team for these key qualities for success:

Good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to work independently, and the resilience to recover from issues that will inevitably arise. Making sure you are hiring or developing your team to excel in these qualities will set you up for a team well suited to virtual teamwork. Each team member will have different needs, so make sure you are tuned in.

Use technology to your advantage:

Working at a distance can be complicated because it affects both the way we feel and think. For one, it can promote us and them thinking, that is, it can lead us to group our colleagues into categories rather than see them as individuals. How to combat this? Use video conferences regularly. Scheduling regular meetings rather than on an as-needed basis, is key for many reasons – for example, it will help colleagues feel closer, and they can share and uncover ideas and expertise within the group that might have been previously unknown. 

In addition to just diving into the work tasks, it’s important for a manger to make the time so the group can share personal updates as well. Sharing updates also creates shared experiences that increase the feeling of cohesiveness.

As a manager, highlighting the things we have in common with our virtual colleagues is another way to conqueror distance. Remind your team of its shared and distributed goal.

Clarify roles and guidelines:

Make sure everyone is crystal clear about their role and knows the roles of the others on the team. This will foster better and faster dialogue among the team, making for a much more effective unit. In addition, agree on how quickly team members should respond to emails and requests from one another. Virtual teammates often find themselves saying, “I thought it was obvious that…” or “I didn’t think I needed to spell that out.” So also insist that requests be specific.

Foster trust:

Trust starts with respect and empathy. But know that relationship building is an ongoing process. While employees who are in the same office commonly chat about their lives, virtual teammates do so much more rarely. This is another reason to take the time on video calls to share a recent professional success or some personal news. 

Use discussion forums:

Software ranging from Microsoft SharePoint to Moot to Slack, all allow team members to collaborate and benefit from the intelligence of the group. In addition, another bonus is that all interaction is documented and is a searchable database of information and ideas.

These are just a few tips for getting started. Managing a team locally can be tough enough, so having a dispersed team will take time to master. Patience and transparency are key.

For more visit https://hbr.org/2014/12/getting-virtual-teams-right.

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