The number of virtual teams is growing in every organization as technology and communication make it easier for team members to collaborate and work together across regions, diverse geographies and time zones.

There is a strong business case for augmenting your leadership development programs with training targeted for virtual team leaders because of the special challenges they face.

In creating a virtual leadership curriculum, we advocate these 10 essentials:

1. Leadership Differences Made Explicit – What is the same and what is different when leading virtual teams? The essential leadership difference can be summed up in one word – planning. Whether someone has been a virtual leader for some time or is new to the role, making the leadership framework differences explicit is essential to help those assume the role and see leadership in a new way.

2. Team Kick-off – The essential components of getting to know one another in the all-important face-to-face kick-off sessions is often overlooked in a virtual team. Because of time constraints and the task focus when communicating, how do team members build the engagement, the camaraderie and the commitment to one another that support not only employee engagement, but also getting the work done on time and within budget?

3. Team Processes – Virtual leaders need to pay far more attention to the details of internal processes and practices and make these far more explicit. Taking the time to plan these processes and gain agreement in advance will save time, and make the group far more productive and the discussion time more focused. Such processes that need to be outlined and agreed to include:

  • Shared leadership
  • Meeting Agendas/ Notes
  • Communication Charters
  • Task Clarification
  • Decision Matrixes
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Deliverable Dashboards

4. Communication Is the Key: Less Is More – Virtual leaders often assume that it is critical to continually engage team members with e-mails, instant messaging, etc. to ensure they stay focused. One of the keys to the communication charter is to come up with a protocol so information overload does not lead to people tuning out. Having a way to bundle updates, and then make clear when decisions need to be made or a return e-mail is required, is an important element of that charter.

5. Virtual Water Cooler – Everyone has a vision of people gathering around and talking about their weekend, whether their favorite team won, or who is getting married next month. With virtual teams, how do you create this kind of ongoing dialogue that provides team engagement while the tough work of the project is getting done? Some ideas include starting each WebEx or call with a few minutes of “what’s happening in your world” updates as well as using social media. While time is essential, consider the 50 percent decline of on-time performance results of virtual team members when they are not truly committed to one another.

6. Teambuilding – The virtual leader is in an ideal position to observe the team, know the work that needs to be accomplished and detect gaps in performance, engagement and collaboration. The virtual leader wants to clarify roles and at the same time allow the group of professionals to find their own way to accomplish work most productively. Working with internal OD, HR or training professionals and creating short, targeted training sessions – especially on the essentials of collaboration, innovation and managing the project – can be very effective.

7. Check-ins and Celebrations – Having a systematic approach to calls with smaller teams, or with larger teams, sub-groups and individuals, is an essential part of the work of the virtual leader. Having a rotation of who to check in with each week is important when leading multiple team members or even leaders of several teams. When people work in isolation from one another, these check-ins are so important to ensure there is a process to recognize milestone achievements, brainstorm when people “get stuck”, and celebrate not just the larger accomplishments but also day-to-day achievements.

8. Provide Cultural Awareness Training – If team members have not worked with people from other countries, have a global diversity expert spend time providing insights about cultural differences and similarities plus potential challenges that this team might face. Continue to bring up these differences periodically during regular meetings and ongoing teambuilding.

9. Agree on a Shared Language – Especially when the work is very technical and problem solving needs to be done by small groups of people, there may be need for sub-teams to agree on a different language to optimize their capabilities. Take the time to be explicit about common words and phrases that may have different meanings in different cultures, such as “yes.”

10. Balance Time Zones – When virtual meetings need to take place at “off hours” for a segment of the team, change the meeting time so mornings or late evenings are shared among team members.

If you are looking for help developing Virtual Instructors in your Organization, don’t hesitate to call us! Infopro Learning’s Leadership offerings are customized to meet your training needs with 20 years of experience developing virtual leaders of the future.

If you found this topic interesting, watch our video on building a culture of accountability!

AUTHOR
Kathy Sherwood

Kathy Sherwood

About the author: Kathy is the Director of Leadership and Organizational Development for InfoPro Learning. Prior to InfoPro Learning, she was the founder and senior partner of a global leadership development company for more than 20 years. Kathy’s specialty is creating a customized blend of workshops, coaching, simulations, and e-learning tools to provide leaders and managers with a competitive advantage, while also maximizing the return on training investment for their organizations.

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