How to Manage a Virtual Team

In the knowledge economy, virtual working is becoming increasingly common and more managers are seeking guidance on how to work with virtual teams effectively now they are losing the close, informal contact they have enjoyed until now, and aren’t able to guide or direct their staff quite as easily. Here are some suggestions for managing a virtual team.

Establish Ground Rules

Agreeing acceptable behaviours is probably even more important when it comes to virtual teams. The ground rules could include:

  • the hours during which they are expected to be working and contactable
  • communication response times
  • attendance at meetings (whether face to face, Web-based, or by telephone)

Share Team Goals

A team is a group of people working towards common goals. It’s easy for people working alone to lose sight of this. Remind them regularly about the team objectives and how they are contributing to meeting them. Team members are more likely to collaborate with each other.

Arrange regular events

Look for ways to get the team together for both work related and social events. It allows them to get to know each other on a personal level as well as re-enforce the team identity.

Adapt the Sales Team model

Sales teams out on the road are used to working in this way and have well established processes to make it effective. They have targets to meet, ways of feeding back their activity and results to head office, and regular check in times with their bosses. While you may not have a culture of setting numerical targets it’s worth considering what you can adapt from this model including, measuring progress and results and making them visible across the team.

Allocate work with clarity and precision

Take extra care when allocating work because it’s not so easy for team members to come back and ask further questions. They need clear standards, timescales, reporting guidelines and possibly shorter timescales. Give work with 2 or 3 week timescales rather than 6 weeks. By the way, if you want to ensure the person is clear, don’t just repeat your message, or ask them if they are clear, ask them to summarise their understanding of what you’ve agreed.

Emphasise the Why and the What, not the How

My friend Mark Fritz talks eloquently about consistently communicating the Why and the What of the work, rather than the How. When members know WHY they are doing what they are doing and are clear on WHAT to do, rather than being told HOW to do it, they will take on more ownership and responsibility.

Adopt a coaching approach

Once you have these principles in place and are making progress and results visible across the team, it’s important to lead and coach rather than micro-manage.  Ask good coaching questions to help people set their own stretching goals, find the best way of delivering on them and personally commit to them.

Do you have a virtual team?

What works well?

What are the challenges?

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