As telecommuting is becoming a common practice, team leaders must rethink their management strategies. Virtual teams tend to be culturally diverse and studies show that they have the advantage of being more innovative and able to move quickly out of their comfort zones; but at the same time bringing them together to collaborate can be a challenge.
As globalization increasingly requires people to work across borders, innovation depends more on collaboration and cooperation, making it necessary for organizations to improve communication. This is crucial to the success of virtual teams.
We will now provide you with the precepts to lead a team successfully:
- If possible, gather the team physically at the beginning. It may seem paradoxical, but face-to-face communication is still better than the virtual one when it comes to building relationships and fostering trust, which are an essential foundation for effective teamwork. If you are not able to do it, it will not be the end of the world either. You have to help team members get to know each other better, both personally and professionally, as well as to create a shared vision and a set of guiding principles about how the team will work.
- Clarify tasks and processes, not just objectives and roles. All new leaders should align their team with goals, roles and responsibilities. However, in virtual teams, coordination is more difficult because people are not located in the same place. Therefore, it is important to pay more attention to the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them.
- Take advantage of communication technologies. Advances in collaboration technologies are undoubtedly facilitating the creation of virtual teams. However, selecting the “best” technologies does not necessarily mean choosing the newest or most advanced ones. You need to keep in mind that the newest tools are not always the best ones.
- Build a team timetable. When some or all members of a team work separately, it is too easy to disconnect from the normal rhythms of working life. One antidote is to be disciplined in creating and applying rhythms to virtual teamwork. This means, for example, having regular meetings, the same day and time each week. It also means setting up and sharing the meeting agenda in advance, having clear agreements on communication protocols, and starting and ending on time.
- Establish a shared language. Virtual teams are often intercultural, and this magnifies the communication challenges. However, when teams work on tasks that involve more ambiguity, for example, generating ideas or solving problems, the possibility of divergent interpretations is a real danger. Hence the importance of choosing a language that is common to all and asking them to be specific in what they respond to, so as not to leave ambiguity in the interpretation of responses.
- Clarify and follow up on the tasks. When teams work remotely, it is inherently more difficult to do so, because there is no easy way to observe commitment and productivity. As in the previous case, this can be addressed in part by carefully designing tasks and holding regular status meetings. Beyond that, it helps to be explicit in having team members commit to defining intermediate milestones and tracking their progress. A useful tool: a “scorecard” that is visible to all team members at whatever communication tool they are using.
- Encourage shared leadership. Defining results and tracking commitments provides a “push” to keep team members focused and productive; shared leadership encourages the members to collaborate actively.
However, with those basic principles alone you will not be able to lead a team, you will also need to work on the following qualities:
- Open and flexible mindset: important for teams that need to develop a product or complete a project quickly. Be open to different points of views and ideas, take every member`s opinion into consideration while making decisions. All team members should also be open to the creative process.
- Transparent communication: you must ensure that your communication is clear and unambiguous and that you make sure you not only fully understand your team, but that you understand yourself.
- Patience: things will take longer, there may be interpersonal irritations and disruptions, people will not always say what they really think, meetings will not always go as planned and you will have to stay positive and focused on achieving your goals. Don’t give up when obstacles and issues come up, but learn from them to avoid them in the future.
- Focus on results: Of course, all team leaders need to focus on results, but one of the challenges of managing a virtual team is that you cannot see what people are doing or monitor their performance in the same way, so you can only really manage, measure and reward them based on results and consequences.
How can Digital Latam help you lead a successful team?
Our staff at Digital Latam is used to adapting to the digital world, that is why, from the moment a new member joins our team, we teach them the necessary soft skills to be able to function properly as a team, with cohesion. Here we present you the testimony of some of our employees:
“Working in a virtual team has definitely improved my self-management skills. As a project manager, I always have to keep track of the tasks of the whole project team and at the same time keep track of the structure of my own daily work. The lack of personal contact with my colleagues made this a challenge. Only through good time management, communication and discipline could I complete all my tasks well.”
Amelie Stemmer, Project Manager at Digital Latam
“Since joining Digital Latam, I have learned and improved some social skills that are especially important for virtual collaboration. During this time, I have noticed it especially in the aspect of communication. Since communication is mainly based on words and there are no gestures or facial expressions, it is very important to pay attention to the choice of words and phrases to ensure smooth communication. Apart from that, the aspects of organization, active listening and flexibility are also very valuable for a proactive cooperation”.
Sina Küenzlen, Project Manager at Digital Latam
If you have any questions or are interested in how our team can help you optimize your team management, please do not hesitate to contact us.