Managing Virtual Teams Closing the Distance and Driving Success By Mary Elston. Make a Difference Management TM

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1 Managing Virtual Teams Closing the Distance and Driving Success By Mary Elston Make a Difference Management TM

2 Managing Virtual Teams Closing the Distance and Driving Success By Mary Elston Today s virtual world impacts everyone and this includes you, the successful manager who is constantly honing your make a difference management TM skills. This also means you must be applying virtual management techniques to help you and your team achieve even greater success. How do you do it? How do you manage virtual teams and promote peak performance? In this management booklet, we ll take a high level look at three crucial components for leading virtual teams. These collective tips will help drive success and close the distance across your virtual group. If you are already using a few of these tips -- great! Make sure you consider all of them, put them into action, and start gaining benefits now. Use these techniques as vital reminders for how you can achieve virtual team success. To kick start and power boost your virtual management techniques, we ll be looking at the following: What are key features of great virtual team management? How can you help remote workers stay connected? How do you keep virtual teams strong and performance high? What are key features of great virtual team management? You may be a manager who handles most interactions with your team on a face to face basis. This is fairly common with smaller organizations with only a few locations. If you work for a larger organization with multiple offices and international facilities; you are likely dealing with virtual teams on a daily basis. Even for managers who engage in face to face interactions the majority of the time, these virtual management methods can also be applied to your other business activity that s largely phone or oriented in other words, virtual. 2

3 Make sure you keep these key features in mind for great virtual team management: A) Inclusion and Clarity B) Resources and Interaction A) Inclusion and Clarity Make all virtual workers feel they are part of the team. This sounds simple enough but if you have ever talked to employees who are team members on a virtual basis; many will tell you this foundational feature is often lacking. I can recall being one of several virtual team members on a weekly conference call where this was the case. The manager of the team regularly left the room at the end of the call without saying good bye or signing off to those on the other end of the speaker phone. This smacked of having a hard time remembering you re out there even though it was not intended. The manager simply forgot to acknowledge our presence when the meeting ended. Bad form no matter how you look at it. I could provide extensive examples where virtual members were not recognized in an inclusive manner in team interactions. This includes people in the room exchanging jokes and carrying on side conversations making it impossible for virtual participants to hear over the speaker phone. As the manager your responsibility is straight forward always greet virtual team members when a meeting starts and thank them and say good bye when the meeting concludes. Ask them for input and invite their questions as well. Consistently make them feel they are valued members of the team. Ensure team members understand their role; have clear ownership of duties. A virtual worker may be someone who is working on their own the majority of the time. This means they have to be self-motivated, have a high degree of selfinitiative for getting the work done, and be highly self-disciplined. These characteristics must be bolstered by managers who provide virtual employees with clear roles, responsibilities and duties they own and for which they are accountable. In short, managers must ensure their virtual employees are not restrained with uncertainty as to what s expected from them. Give them crisp accountability and access to resources needed to achieve individual success on a virtual level. Empower your virtual team with appropriate authority needed to succeed on an individual basis as well as on a distance basis. 3

4 It makes perfect sense. Managers who give their virtual team clear ownership of duties must likewise provide the authority needed to accomplish those duties. Yes it makes sense, but it s surprising how many managers fail to implement this critical component in the virtual team program. Don t hamstring virtual teams by withholding the authority they need to get the job done. Allocate appropriate authority for duties and tasks you re expecting your virtual team to accomplish. Make sure the distance associated with their virtual status is not exacerbated by an approval process that inhibits or slows progress and performance. While you re at it; as a manager you should also let your virtual team know how and how often you wish to be kept informed of their decisions and progress. B) Resources and Interaction Provide virtual resources such as laptops, high speed connections and other technology needs. Let s take a deep dive into what should be included in the quiver of resources provided to your virtual workers. On an increasing level, the virtual employee is working from a home office. As a manager of a virtual work force, you must make sure they have a computer, corporate thin client or laptop as well as relevant software, a high speed connection and other technologies deemed necessary to efficiently perform their role. The new virtual employee should have ready access to company contacts and processes to enable quick receipt of these resources with as little delay and pain as possible. Virtual resources may also include a cell phone and Blackberry provided by the company. Whatever technology tools you choose to provide virtual employees, as a manager you must clearly explain how to acquire these resources and what expenses are covered by the company. Make it easy for your virtual worker to actually do the work! It s amazing how many managers tell their virtual worker to get what they need and do not provide ready access to people and processes needed to get it. Do not practice throw it out and walk away management. When this occurs, the manager simply throws out the order and leaves employees scrambling in his wake. I am not saying you need to hold your virtual worker s hand; that s not the intent. I am saying you need to make it known who they can go to for help if they need it. We ll talk about this more when we cover the buddy system in a later section. Recognize conference calls are the main source of virtual team interaction; make them effective. For many companies, conference calls are an essential part of doing business. Since your virtual employee is highly dependent on conference calls for live contact, you, the manager, must be vigilant at making conference calls effective and informative. Conduct calls with a planned agenda whenever possible and remember to inject opportunities for input from all participants on the call, 4

5 including your virtual team members. Engage in appropriate amounts of small talk to make virtual team members feel included and part of the team dynamic. How can you help remote workers stay connected? Communicate regularly. As you manage your virtual team, remember quality communication is a consistent hallmark of a well run group. The manager often sets the communication tone for the team and this is likewise true for the virtual team. In addition, as a virtual team manager, you set the stage for keeping employees engaged and connected through your communication style and frequency. Make all your communication consistently succinct, informative, worthwhile, and clear. This is crucial for all successful managers and is particularly the case for managers of virtual employees. Allow time for everyone to ask questions and receive clarification if needed. Keep your team enlightened and balance communication with encouragement and high fives to help maintain virtual as well as face to face camaraderie, connection and motivation. Maintain consistent team meeting schedule. While you re maintaining the great communication mentioned above make sure you implement a regular meeting schedule for your team also known as a staff meeting. Various other meetings may involve different employees on your team at different times. Managing a regular time for a group staff meeting via conference call builds essential team bonds. It further provides a means for virtual employees to connect with the entire team. When international teams are involved, consider rotating the time of your staff meeting every three to four months so any inconvenient time zone burdens are shared across the team throughout the year. Provide a list of resources with URL links. We all know stuff comes up. More and more managers and their virtual teams are developing wiki web sites housing wonderful repositories of information people have come across when looking for stuff they need. Essentially wikis are a composite of documents and URL links to rich resources. If you don t have a wiki yet for your virtual team, create one now. If you do have a wiki make sure it is easily searchable with a clean layout; allowing information to be readily accessed and provide immediate benefit. Oh yes, as a manager, you ll also want to assign a team member to keep the wiki neat and tidy. Similar to what you might do with a favorite closet at home, stage a regular group house cleaning of wiki content at least twice a year. For the new member of your virtual team, provide a short list of URL links containing essential detail for getting started in 5

6 their new role. They can ease their way into the full list of wiki resources as needed. Establish a buddy system. It can be lonely out there for the virtual employee. Don t make them search for someone to help guide them through the maze of resources they have to find on short notice. Assign a buddy to the virtual worker especially the newly hired virtual worker. Their buddy should preferably be someone located at a company facility who has face to face contact with others or at a minimum is well networked and knows the ropes. The buddy system should also allow your virtual employee to stay tapped into the company grapevine and stay tuned into various informal networks. At least one buddy should be assigned to your new virtual team member, with the names of a few others in case they are needed. Plan face to face session at least once a year or more if feasible. Why do business people still travel in our virtual world? Because nothing replaces face to face contact for engaging, connecting, communicating and truly bonding with others. As a manager, do whatever you can to enable a face to face session for your entire team including virtual team members at least twice a year if possible. It s well worth the investment and the terrific working synergies resulting from face to face interaction for your entire team. It also provides an excellent opportunity for a group event to further build trust and team collaboration. Nothing beats it and unfortunately it is becoming harder and harder to accomplish under tight budgets; but be the manager who continues to try to make it happen. Video conferencing or web cam. No travel budget for your team? Use video conferencing if you have access to it and use it on a regular basis when viable. This isn t as effective as face to face but it s the next best thing. At the very least, consider web cams which are relatively inexpensive and can provide a visual connection for your virtual team members. This will help your virtual employees tap into personality nuances and other unspoken details when they have the benefit of a visual connection. How do you keep virtual teams strong and performance high? I ve shared a number of basic tactics for managing your virtual team and I m sure you are strategizing how to combine these with techniques you are currently using. With your virtual management thought process now in turbo charged mode, let s keep your momentum fired up with these additional methods for keeping virtual teams strong. 6

7 Promote discussion of shared goals. All great managers know goals are important for taking performance to the next level. Shared goals across a team provide an added benefit of generating team energy and collaborative spirit. Implement goals shared across the entire team and encompassing virtual team members. Have goal-related tasks assigned to all team members to enable the entire team to contribute to shared achievements. Shared goals provide a great jumping off point for virtual team discussion and for developing future programs benefitting the business. Virtual team members gain increased insight into group processes by participating in shared goals. Encourage relationship building and cross-functional relationships across peer teams. Pretty straight forward, don t you agree? Help your virtual team members build relationships with others and other teams by assigning them projects involving cross-functional teams. Refer them to other virtual workers for information and guidance on various topics; in short, help grease the networking process. Get your virtual team members immersed in relationships with other teams and encourage their involvement in this regard. Pony up budget money for affordable travel to help build cross-team relationships and ultimately benefit your entire team on current and developing projects. Enable individual input on conference calls. You already know part of keeping any team strong is managing active participation by its members. This is even more important when you re managing virtual teams. Engage virtual team members on conference calls, invite their input. Give them advance notice you would like them to say a few words to the team on an upcoming group call relative to an ongoing project or other topic where they can share their expertise. Keep their virtual presence strong with regular participation on conference calls. Recognize individual achievements. We all know virtual is another word for I can t see you. The virtual employee doesn t have the luxury of reading body language during a conversation, seeing a congratulatory smile or viewing an appreciative facial expression. For these and so many other reasons, it s vitally important you make it a point to manage recognition of individual achievements made by virtual workers. Recognize them on team calls so everyone can hear about their accomplishments essential for all employees, especially for the virtual team members you are managing. This also fuels the virtual worker s ability to energize relationship building efforts which are an ongoing action item for all those working on a virtual level. 7

8 Hold regular one-on-one session with all virtual team members. A virtual worker is part of your team that s easy to appreciate. Make sure they are also part of your regular one-on-one meetings you hold with everyone in your group. Great managers hold regular one-on-one sessions with their employees to engage in individual conversation, coach, encourage, provide updates, reprimands and any other exchange appropriate for one-on-one interaction. Make sure your virtual employees also benefit from this individual exchange with you, their manager. Plan face to face session with entire team every six months if possible. This was mentioned earlier and merits repeating. Strong teams and strong virtual teams engage each other on a face to face basis whenever possible. At least twice a year would be great; even more often if viable. This is one of many ways to help keep virtual teams strong and performance high. The point is simply this face to face is the place for keeping team bonds strong and resilient and for advancing ideas and collaboration. There are a large number of other techniques you can use to manage virtual teams; I have provided a selection of the most essential ones here. Use these collective tips to manage your virtual team more successfully, close the distance and help your virtual employees achieve their utmost potential. If you aren t managing a virtual team now, you ll likely be managing one in the future. Keep this booklet handy. It provides a great starting point for making sure your virtual team management skills are moving in the right direction driving virtual and real success! Mary Elston 8

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