The challenges that virtual team leaders face are made worse by the virtual setting. According to a new study conducted by OnPoint, the most commonly experienced challenges are: infrequent face-to-face contact, lack of investment in virtual tools and travel budgets, difficulty in building a collaborative spirit, lack of time to “lead” the team, shifting team & organizational priorities, and difficulties in managing performance in the virtual setting. The most successful virtual leaders are able to apply strategies that help address these challenges. Just understanding that leading from a distance takes additional care and skill is the first step. Assuming that the virtual teaming is the same as face-to-face teaming is a BIG mistake, and one that many leaders make when approaching the world of virtual team leadership.
Here are the top 6 challenges for virtual team leaders and what leaders can do about them:
Strategies to overcome: Virtual leaders should consider focusing not only on the performance aspects of their team, but also the relational aspects of their teams. One simple strategy to build relations with team members is to do “check-in” phone calls with team members to reinforce the relationship exercised in virtual team meetings. Check-in calls build a one-on-one connection, trust, and deeper commitment to the team members’ input to the team.
Strategies to overcome: Leaders should consider the benefit of applying a budget for initial face-to-face meetings to kick off their virtual teams and sufficient tools to enable their virtual teams to operate and bridge the obvious impact of lack of face time. There is such a thing as cutting too far back.
Strategies to overcome: Geographic separation, differences in time zones, and electronically separated relationships do add extra challenges to the virtual leader’s plate. Establishing clear goals and objectives, rules of engagement and governance of the team processes will go a long way in creating an environment where members focus on the same things, know how they will work together, and feel free to collaborate. Group size may also be an issue. Leaders should consider categorizing and prioritizing team focus so that he or she can create sub teams that are made responsible for pieces of the team focus. Then, bring the team together virtually to hold the sub teams accountable. This technique allows you leverage “clicks” to focus on their hot buttons, but use the overall team to steer the outcome.
Strategies to overcome: Virtual team leaders must be proficient in how to delegate and hold team members accountable. What happens between virtual engagements is just as important as what happens during virtual engagements. The most effective virtual team leaders “empower” team members, inspire ownership, and set processes in place to establish accountability.
Strategies to overcome: Most good virtual team leaders establish goals and objectives up-front, but perhaps do not update these goals and objectives as the landscape changes. This becomes very challenging when you are leading a geographically dispersed team. Team members will start to complain that their time is being wasted because they are not being kept informed. The team meets only to find out that the offline work they have been diligently plugging away on is now mute, but they never got the memo. Another pesky issue is the complaint that team members “closer to the flagpole” are more in the know. The most effective team leaders will take great pains to keep the entire team informed about changes in goals and objectives, and news that impacts the team. Additionally, great team leaders will be vigilant to not develop “haves” and “have-nots” based on where someone’s office resides. Even if a team member is across the aisle from you, they should receive the same communication as the team member across the nation in Pacific Standard Time.
Strategies to overcome: One of the main things that makes it difficult to manage performance is that expectations are not clearly established up-front or what “right” looks like. Delay in addressing issues due to geographic separation and conflict avoidance play out poorly in the virtual realm of performance management. The great virtual team leader will take extra care in clearly communicating expectations, setting suspense dates, following up, and providing written or visual examples of what “right” looks like. It is also very important to keep the focus on the deliverable and not the person. This is true in the traditional face-to-face performance management situation, but even more so in the virtual where trust and commitment are more fragile. Finally, restating the team members’ own words for clarification is sometimes needed when seeking clarity and understanding. It may feel repetitive, but this type of parroting communication may reveal nuances of misunderstanding that would otherwise be passed over.
–Joy Bolluyt, Owner, President and Lead Consultant of Manageta. “Command Your Vision … Experience the Power of a Team!”
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Joy A. Bolluyt © Copyright 2012. WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include: Joy Bolluyt, Owner, President and Lead Consultant, Manageta, is an online business consultant, certified online business manager and virtual teaming expert. She works with highly motivated consultants, business owners, and entrepreneurs that want to GROW their business and take back their LIFE! To schedule a complimentary consult, go to https://my.timedriver.com/L4B6G and visit blog: http://manageta.comby