We live in times where more and more work is executed by teams that are geographically distributed. Leading a virtual team, fostering collaboration and binding them to common set of objectives is one of the key challenges for business leaders.
In most of the troubled projects I have seen, the real challenges were not technical/engineering ones but communication/collaboration ones. Having been a part of distributed team and having managed a few projects with virtual teams, here 10 most important lessons I have learned:
- Share Leadership Responsibilities: Success of distributed team depends largely on leadership model. When team is distributed, leadership responsibilities should also be distributed. Command and control leadership model generally fails.
- Foster Peer Leadership: It is even more crucial when the team is distributed.
- Clearly articulate team goals and vision: It helps in aligning the team. When team is driven by the purpose, they are better equipped to take right decisions. The team should also know how their work fits into the larger picture.
Trust and Empowerment
- Lack of trust is one of the biggest killers in a virtual team environment. They way you manage the team tells a lot about how much you trust them. People will back off the moment they feel that they are not trusted.
- Don’t get insecure: When a team is away, leaders tend to get insecure and start micro-managing. They just push decisions to their teams, rather than involving them in the decision making. This works against building a culture of trust and empowerment.
- Be human – people in your virtual team are still human beings who possess a set of important skills, who carry a self-esteem and who are emotional. You can treat them as “resources” or treat them as “human beings” – that choice makes a lot of difference.
- Even in virtual teams, face to face communication is very crucial. The best way to start a project is to have entire team interact with each other on a one to one basis. Even in virtual setting, it is important that team members know each other well.
- Establish formal and informal communication rituals to stay constantly connected with the team. Technologies like real time/video chat and phone calls really help in establishing a two way dialogue where people can freely express themselves.
- Provide clarity to all team members on roles, responsibilities, protocols and basic expectations on communication, deliveries and quality.
- Have a system that provides clear status of the tasks and results of each team member’s efforts. Central management systems helps everyone stay on the same page. These systems can also be used to automate a lot of communication and collaboration.
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10 Key Lessons On Leading Virtual Teams Effectively