5 Problems and Solutions for Leading a Virtual Team

Posted: 30 November 2018

Leading a team that isn't usually together in the same place can be challenging! Maybe you'll recognise some of these problems:

Problem 1 - People fail to deliver

Solution

  • Make sure the results are well defined
  • Emphasise that you are uncompromising on expecting people to deliver results. If they are struggling they must ask for support before the finaldeadline
  • Get very tough on people who fail to deliver – analyse the reasons, extract the learning, and make it clear that delivery is crucial. (see our Tackling Poor Performance Course)
  • Make it clear that your job as team leader is to define results and develop the capabilities of your team members – not to tell them how to do their job. 

Problem 2 - You can't see what the person's up to until they deliver or fail 

Solution

  • Ensure that each team member is clear how success is measured, and what information must be gathered to demonstrate success. As far as possible, make them responsible for gathering this information and presenting it to you and/or the rest of the team
  • Use appropriate technologies to share team and individual progress
  • Co-ordinate team updates and include information on how individuals are contributing towards progress to the overall team goals. Make sure this information is shared in more than one channel – eg teleconferences (TCs),  email, online. 
  • Put the onus on team members to demonstrate that they are on course to deliver results

Problem 3 - It's hard to tell if people are really committed if you can't see them 

Solution

  • Be very explicit about what you expect of people. Be flexible and understanding about resources, timescales etc, but let it be known that you are uncompromising about delivering on promised results - Ask people to declare their commitment to a course of action: on a 0 – 10 scale how committed are you to doing this? 
  • At the end of a TC, ask each participant to say what they are going to do (rather than summarising yourself) 
  • Make it clear what the person has committed to and check that they understand the consequences 
  • Use some kind of online scoreboard to record commitment and progress
  • Develop a team charter that explains how the team members will work with each other
  • Autonomy, mastery and purpose are the three key motivators for creative and other intrinsically satisfying tasks. Make sure you explicitly use these motivators in an appropriate way for each individual (See our Essential Skills for Managing People and Teams course)
  • Generally pay much more attention to learning what motivates and engages individual team members. For example, after a task has gone well, ask the person, what was it about that task that made it so satisfying for you? And vice versa. 

Problem 4 - Conflict goes unresolved because it's harder to disagree in a conference call or an email than it is in a physical meeting. 

Solution

  • Make it easy for people to disagree
  • Role model disagreement yourself
  • In a conference call ask:  Who would like to express the opposite point of view?  What are the pros and cons of this proposal?
  • Ask people by name to express support or reservations for the proposal
  • Breed confidence in your team members to disagree
  • Give people positive feedback for honestly expressing their views, and challenge people who don't disagree enough!
  • Never complain about a team member to anyone else. Give that person your honest and constructive feedback (See the E2C2 Feedback Model)

Problem 5 - It's harder to build trust when you can't meet someone face to face. Interacting by phone and email is less intense than face to face, and can be less frequent. Hence the lack of trust in many remote teams 

Solution

  • Have frequent teleconferences (TCs) – virtual teams that have weekly or more frequent TCs are generally more effective than those that communicate less frequently
  • Consider having short quick TC virtual huddles 
  • Build in occasional ‘social' calls to get to know your team members. Especially important with people you know less well or don't naturally warm to
  • Make yourself accessible – have some well understood team protocols for how the team can get in touch with you easily and quickly. For example, if they make an email high importance you will always respond that day: if they call you between 0800 and 0900 they will get an immediate response etc
  • Have face to face meetings if possible at the launch of a project team or occasionally with an on going team. Develop a team charter
  • Use TCs to share successes and talk about how the team is working as well as dealing with current business items
  • Provide unexpected, after the event, reward and recognition 
  • Trust your team – let them know that you are giving them the freedom to deliver results 
  • Stimulate peer–peer relationships in your team with joint projects, buddying, mentoring etc.
  • Accept that you have to do more work ‘behind the scenes' to understand your team members and their motivations. 

by Larry Reynolds


If you need guidance or training on managing your team, explore our management training courses

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