Lessons Learned: how to manage a virtual team

Posted June 26, 2014 in Latest News & Insights, Teamwork

When I first launched The Executive Roundtable, it was me, myself and I, so keeping things aligned was pretty easy.  As we grew and added more and more team members – some part-time, some full-time – we continually revisited whether we needed to move to a “bricks and mortar” office or stay as a virtual organization.  In a time where you can work anywhere (I’m working from my club right now) and applications that live in the cloud, we’ve repeatedly decided to stay virtual.  Although that may change soon, here are some lessons I’ve learned as I’ve made the transition from being a primarily “face to face” leader to leading a fully virtual organization:

  1. Communication is king… you really can’t communicate enough when your team is virtual and a mix of full and part-time.  And this isn’t just from the leader.  Every team member has to take personal responsibility for keeping their colleagues informed on things.
  2. Leading virtually is time consuming… building on the first point, all this communication adds time.  You can’t just casually shout over your cubicle.  You need to email, call or text and then wait for responses.  Which leads to the next challenge…
  3. Beware email… we all know email adds tone and can have unintended consequences.  Be mindful of how you use it.  I received feedback from my team on the abruptness of my email messages (usually I’m responding quickly between meetings).  Talking it through helped me understand their perspectives and them understand not to put too much weight into some of the hurried responses.
  4. Make time to build group trust… as you add people to a virtual team, it’s crucial that you help them integrate into the group as quickly as possible.  Make sure you build in time to help your team members establish their working relationships so that you can keep your team at a performing level.
  5. Face time is best… build in times for you teams to get together in person as regularly as you can.  Our team meets face-to-face monthly and then for quarterly planning meetings.  Plus members of the team get together face to face when they can. Outside of physically being in the same room, you can also get “face to face” through platforms like Google Hangouts and Skype.  We run a Skype meeting every  Monday to align around our weekly priorities.
  6. Hiring junior people can be a challenge…Probably the biggest downside I’ve experienced with running  a virtual organization is just how difficult it is to bring on “green” employees.  The learning curve seems to take much, much longer.  It’s this factor that’s making me consider full time space.  For senior people, it’s been a tricky, but I would say with very junior people – it’ s been almost impossible.  Especially in a team which is extremely extended with limited time for training.  If you do onboard a junior, build in ample face time to ramp them up and be patient.  It may take them a little longer to get them productive than you anticipate.

Running  a virtual team can be a test for leaders like myself who’ve relied heavily on face-time to manage their teams.  With technology and high communication though, you can create teams that are engaged, enthusiastic and high performing.

Happy leading!

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