Good team dynamics don’t just happen on their own; they are the result of good planning on the part of the team leader as well as lots of personal accountability among the team members. As a remote team leader there are some simple steps you can take up front to set your folks on a productive path and to build a culture of self-accountability making the team process a lot more pleasant for everyone.
Choose your team members wisely up front. Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for remote work. It takes self-discipline, self- motivation, professional maturity and also a high level of personal/professional integrity. So when you have a choice, be thoughtful about the people you pick for the team. We get that this isn’t always possible, but if the majority of the team has these qualities, particularly personal integrity, then your team will have a critical mass of players that fit the criteria for productive work.
If the majority adopts good work practices, the group can be coached to self-police itself to a large degree. Also, outliers who don’t fit in or who work against the norm will either self-select out or get marginalized in the long run. Most people will conform if the majority of the group is working in unison and it’s more powerful if the group applies pressure on its own rather than you always having to play the heavy.
You still need to layout the framework for accountability. Even when you have a great group, it’s your job as team leader to clearly state the rules from the beginning. Don’t assume anything even if you have worked with the group successfully in the past. Even great teams need the reminder and a re-set and a project kick-off is the natural place to do so.
Prepare to be tested, address issues early, privately and professionally. It’s in our human natures to test each other and some people have a greater need than others to do so. Don’t personalize when a team member acts up. Who knows the motivation for the behavior so give people the benefit of the doubt and address things early and assume the individual doesn’t understand the impact of their actions. These conversations need to be handled privately through either phone or video (or face-to-face if you have that luxury). Focus on the behavior, not the person – start with a neutral question:
- “I’m reaching out because I have concerns about your tone of voice in the last team call. Is everything ok?”
- “Just wanted to make sure you are ok, it seemed like there was a lot of frustration in your voice on your last call. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Listen carefully to their response and act accordingly. Remind the individual of the impact of their behavior on others. Reiterate the rules of engagement and, if appropriate, coach/counsel the individual as to more productive ways to engage with the group. This is a quiet conversation between you and a team member. It should be quiet, focused on getting to the root cause of the issue and resolving it in a low key, respectful way.
Take note of the follow-up behavior. Once you have these types of conversations with a team member, take note of their behavior going forward. If they make positive changes, it’s an indication things have righted themselves. If the behavior continues or, worse, escalates, then you have a bigger problem. We’ll discuss possible tactics for escalating behavior in a future post.
Tackling things proactively while they are small is always going to yield the best results. Teams that can work without drama experience less stress and get things done quickly and without fanfare. These types of teams have more capacity to take on greater challenges because they are better able to problem-solve and work well together as a cohesive unit.
What techniques have you used to developed high functioning virtual teams? We’d love to hear about your best practices!