Leading Virtual Teams

Leading Virtual Teams

Leading both remote and virtual teams is common in the technology industry. People on remote teams are located in different geographies and report to the same manager. In contrast, people on virtual teams can either be located in different geographies or the same location. Members report to different functional managers, but also have a dotted-line reporting relationship to the virtual team leader. Leaders of remote teams have direct authority over people. Leaders of virtual teams must develop influence with people to drive results.

Example: In enterprise software, it is common for an account manager to have responsibility for driving revenue within a specific geography. While the account manager does not have direct reports, they often have a virtual team of specialists to help them achieve objectives. The issue: If the account manager does not have direct authority over each member of the virtual team, how can they ensure consistent results and accountability are achieved? In addition to traditional leadership principles, below are seven strategies for developing positive influence with people.

  • Commitments – Once a quarter, do a side-by-side comparison of commitments for virtual team members. Highlight where there is alignment. These are the areas where everyone should be working together to achieve common objectives. In areas where there is no alignment, work to mitigate differences.
  • Communication – Since virtual team members may be based in different locations, it is important to communicate often to ensure direction is clearly defined and ambiguity is thoroughly removed. Progress with customers should also be regularly communicated to ensure everyone on the team remains actively engaged.
  • Decisions – Leaders should ask each virtual team member for input when making key decisions. Asking team members for input creates buy-in and allows everyone to feel heard. Leaders must be decisive to avoid periods of ambiguity. Once a decision has been made, the leader must own its implementation and execution.
  • Meetings – Leaders should hold weekly team meetings to share progress and ensure accountability. Leaders should also use meetings to celebrate short-term wins against annual or quarterly goals to keep everyone energized and involved. Meetings that are canceled regularly decrease reliability (see trust below).
  • People – Every person on a virtual team is different. Just as leaders cannot manage everyone the same way on a direct or remote team, they cannot manage them the same way on a virtual team either. Leaders should work to understand each person’s motivations and needs and align them to overall team objectives.
  • Relationships – Building and maintaining meaningful relationships with people is difficult over email. The best relationships are built in-person first; over the telephone second; and via email/IM third. Apple’s FaceTime and Microsoft’s Skype are effective “face-to-face” collaboration tools if physical distance is an issue.
  • Trust – When virtual team members are based in different locations, trust is often established through reliability (the leader is reliable for the virtual team and the virtual team is reliable for the leader). Implementing a process where people deliver results in a predictable and repeatable manner fosters reliability.

All contents copyright © 2012, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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