How to best manage a virtual team

How to best manage a virtual team?

Managing a team is never easy. If you were an individual contributor and have been promoted to a (team) manager role, it’s even more difficult. You need to ensure you do your job. You also now have team members / direct reports to take care of.

 

As a manager, you need to ensure that each team member knows their roles and responsibilities. You need to put in place short, medium and long term goals for the team as a whole as well as for each team member. Providing regular eedback and having performance reviews in place are also part of your responsibilities. You also need to make sure your team members further develop themselves and that they stay motivated etc. etc.

 

But what do you do when the team you manage does not sit with you in the same room or office? What do you do when your team members are spread across the globe? You have to deal with different time zones. Your team members speak other languages (and therefore are not necessarily native English speakers). They come from different cultures, religions, background, age, etc.

 

Managing a virtual team definitely brings its set of challenges. However, there are ways to overcome them…

 

  1. Have regular meetings, ideally via video conference

Like in any team, it is important to have regular meetings with your team members.  Make sure you have weekly 1-on-1 with your direct reports. This is an opportunity for them to provide their highlights, lowlights/challenges and tell you their next focus. You can help them prioritize, give them guidance and provide them feedback on how they are doing.

Make sure you also have a regular team meeting (ideally weekly as well) with your direct reports. This is your chance to provide updates and ensure everyone is on the same page. These meetings give them the opportunity to discuss challenges they may face. Try to find a time that suits all time zones so that some of your employees do not have to be up in the middle of the night to attend your team meeting!

Don’t forget to have yearly performance reviews. This milestone is very important as it allows you to have a more in depth conversation with your team members.  You provide constructive feedback on what went well and what can be improved. Together with your employee, you set up an action plan to ensure they have something to look forward to and can develop themselves further in the next year.

  1. Communication

I am convinced that 90% of the problems we have in the world are due to mis-communication and mis-understanding. Communicating clearly is even more important when you have people who are not native English.

 

When you manage/lead a virtual team, make sure you communicate regularly. There is never too much communication! Make sure that you communicate clearly and concisely. If you use abbreviations, make sure you spell them out, especially if you have new team members on board. And if you have made a special announcement, make sure you send an email afterwards to everyone, so that people who may have not been able to attend, can be up-to-date with the latest developments.

 

Since your team is virtual, keep in mind that some people from other cultures may be hesitant to ask questions or provide feedback. It is therefore very important to give everybody some time to think, to react. Tell your team that it is ok to ask questions or provide feedback! This will not only show that you are willing to listen to them but also that you are open to suggestions, ideas, etc.

 

  1. Humor

Humor is a tricky thing. It can be a great way to develop relationships however it can also break them if not done properly. What is funny for you may not be funny for someone else, especially if they do not master English, or do not have the same references as you. Remember that when dealing with people from different countries and cultures, you have to pay extra attention not to offend anyone. So use humor carefully.

 

Don’t try to make some ‘play on words’ or use some TV or historical reference, as people who do not live in your country will almost certainly not get it. If you really want to use some humor, best is to start with yourself.

 

Pay attention to some of your gestures if you are trying to put some humor! I remember once crossing my fingers to wish someone good luck, and some of my team members in Germany were a bit confused as in German they say – translating literally – ‘I press my thumbs for you’. My gesture looked like something completely different and if I had not noticed their facial expressions, my joke could have been offensive to them. Fortunately, I could paraphrase what I said and everybody laughed. but this taught me a valuable lesson at the beginning of my professional career.

 

If you can and budget allows, try to visit all your team members once a year. Meeting people face-to-face after dealing with them for weeks or months virtually is such a rewarding experience. They will not only make you feel at home, they will do their best to show you a piece of their country or culture and this will build the team even more.

By doing these ‘basic’ steps, you will have the opportunity to build a real team; a team where people will feel part of something, where they all are involved and can contribute, as if they were sitting right next to you.

 

As JT McCormick once wrote, your direct reports then become true direct supports!

#vlvcoach #leadershipdevelopment #communication #remoteteams #globalleader #professionalwomen

This article was also posted on Linkedin.

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Managing a virtual team

“I have been offered a job abroad but I don’t know if I can do it. Managing a virtual team is completely different than managing a team that is physically located around you”

 

This is what one of my clients told me when she reached out.

 

Yes, managing a team virtually is different.

You do not see or hear each other every day

Sometimes, you may have communication issues as some people may not be fluent in English (or another language) or because of the time difference.

You may be struggling with team performance…

 

But it is not impossible!

Nowadays, we can be connected to each other in so many ways

We just have to be creative in our way of doing things

And we have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes

 

Just like in a ‘normal’ team

Take time to know your people

Listen to them and ask them for feedback

Involve them in your decision making process

 

And before you know it

Your team will be engaged

They will be working hard to achieve goals

And having fun with each other! 

 

Have you ever managed a virtual team? 

If so, what did you do to build the team and improve/sustain performance?

 

I would love to hear your feedback

#vlvcoach #leadership #teamwork #team

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How an escalation can be something positive

I was in an all day performance review meeting when I got an escalation. My boss had received an email requiring my immediate attention.

My training and evaluation specialist had been working on a new test for new hires (NH). We had started to pilot it in the UK.

What happened exactly?

The test results were bad.

Not because of the NH themselves. They were bad because we had used the same target as the ‘old’ test and this test required new ones.

The problem was that these NH test results were closely linked to the ‘yes/no’ hiring decision. We had to hire many people in a short period of time and the tests were helping us define who was fit for the job/who could make it or not.

With this new test results, all NHs (+/- 20) seemed to have failed while they had not.

To be sure we were not letting go some of the good potential NH, we had continued to use both the old test and the new test in parallel, but the ‘damage’ had been done… People started to panick when they heard how ‘bad’ the results were,

HR escalated to the UK Site Manager. The UK Site Manager then escalated to the EU Manager. And finally, the EU Manager brought this issue to my boss’ attention.

To make things worse, the EU Manager was actually the backup (the real EU Manager was on holiday). Since this whole situation was new to him, he tought my boss should be made aware…

So when my boss told me: ‘You have an escalation!’, I left the room and went to talk to my specialist to get a better understanding of the situation.

How the situation was solved

My specialist wanted to resign as he felt he had made a big mistake.

I did not accept his resignation and told him I was also responsible. I should have appointed a project manager to help him implement this new test. This person would also have communicated the different steps and timeframe to all stakeholders.

I also told him to stay positive. This was a learning experience for both of us: we did not fail but learned a lot.

I then called the UK site manager and the EU manager. I explained the situation to each of them, what we were doing to correct it and how we’d proceed in the future.

The EU manager apologized to me – 3 times. He said he overreacted. He said he should not have made an escalation and should have checked with me first.

I told him the same thing that I told my training and evaluation specialist:

You actually never lose / fail: you win or you learn 😊

#vlvcoach #leadership #Womenleadership

This blog was also posted on Linkedin.