Virtual teams
February 7, 2018

How to manage virtual teams well, using 6 key leadership behaviours

By Kevin Watson

Sitting in the comfortable coffee lounge, of a modern glass skyscraper in Canary Wharf, our conversation turned to virtual teams across India. Despite an enviable view across London, the challenges of my guest stretched across the world.

He sighed as I raised the topics of how to get virtual teams to work together effectively.

It seems his challenges are all too common. As I speak with analytics & insight leaders, all too often the challenges of remote teams manifest in different ways.

It seems the luxury of a co-located team (even in same city, let alone same floor of a building), is a rare benefit. Many insight leaders, in today’s corporations, are managing data & analytics teams spread across continents & time zones.

So, in our month focussed on designing & developing the team you need, I’m pleased to welcome back Kevin Watson. As a regular guest blogger & experienced leadership coach, Kevin has experience of helping leaders with the challenge of virtual teams.

In this post, he shares 6 key behaviours, that will help leaders effectively manage such virtual teams. Over to Kevin to explain…

6 key behaviours for leading virtual teams

Virtual teams have become a fact of life, so what does a leader have to do differently to make them work effectively?

Historically, management has been based on an assumption that teams are located in the same place, all there at the same time and sharing a common culture.

As a result, most managers believe it’s their job be the font of all knowledge and be in control.

However, the role of managers today is to lead others to be responsible for themselves and their performance.

After all, even if the traditional role of management were desirable, it simply isn’t practical when people are located all over the map!

“However, to make virtual teamwork work this well, you’ll need to move your team to a new set of behaviours, not just to a new generation of technology, with human engagement as the first priority.”
Keith Ferrazzi

Virtual Management by Walking About

Working effectively with teams made up of people from different locations means learning a whole new style of management.

Although an effective style in a more traditional work setting, management by walking around needs some adapting for the new virtual workplace.

Used to being ‘hands on’, physically checking in on the work being done and receiving face to face updates, managers need to find ways to break these outdated management habits.

They’re naturally concerned about how they will control the quantity and quality of work when faced with people who are scattered about at various locations across the country, continent or around the globe.

“When you meet your workmates by the water cooler or photocopier every day, you know instinctively who you can and cannot trust. In a geographically distributed team, trust is measured almost exclusively in terms of reliability.”
Erin Meyer

6 competencies to develop as virtual team leaders

At a fundamental level, managing from a distance means learning to build trust and delegate effectively.

But developing the social warmth, spontaneous humour and social bonding that comes naturally when people come together, is the leader’s biggest challenge.

You can deal with these challenges both confidently and effectively by adopting the following competency framework:

  1. VISIONARY – create a vision for the organisation, one that others find inspiring and energising
  2. RESULTS ORIENTATED – get great results, managing by principle rather than policy, boundaries rather than directives
  3. RESOURCEFUL – actively facilitate, bringing together the necessary tools, information and resources for getting the job done
  4. INITIATE CHANGE – eliminate barriers by opening doors, challenging status quo and breaking down the barriers that act as interference to team success
  5. CUSTOMER FOCUS – understand and communicate the big picture, acting as advocate for the customer
  6. COACHING – effectively coach others to reach their potential

Above all, set a personal example, serving as a role model for the behaviours you want to experience from your team.

Managing virtual teams – what are your tips?

Thanks to Kevin for his thoughts. Obviously those are just an introduction, to a topic that could occupy days of management development. But, I’m grateful to Kevin fort sharing them, as I see many leaders in need of advice in adapting to this new challenge.

Do you have the responsibility of leading a large virtual team? How do you provide a consistent vision & engender cooperation?

Please share your thoughts and experience. It can be a difficult & lonely challenge, beset with too much time travelling. So advice on what has worked for you is always welcome.