In today’s day and age, teams are no longer confined to one physical location. With advances in technology, it’s now possible for team members to be based in different parts of the world and still be able to collaborate effectively.
This is known as a virtual team.
Although virtual teams have their fair share of benefits, there are some challenges that come along with being involved in this type of team — namely managing them.
Think about it. When team members are in different time zones and not physically present to have face-to-face interactions, how can a leader successfully manage them? It’s not an easy task by any means.
This article will explore some tips on how to manage virtual teams successfully, why it’s important to do so, and some of the best ways to learn leadership in the virtual world.
Virtual Leaders: Some Points To Consider
Virtual teams are composed of individuals who work together from different locations. In order to manage such a team successfully, it is important for the leader to consider a few key points:
Having a Clear Purpose and Goal
Without a clear purpose, it would be difficult to know what the team should be working on and what direction to take. In order to avoid this, make sure that the team’s goals are well-defined and everyone is on the same page.
This is tough to achieve virtually due to the lack of constant contact — which is worlds apart from the consistent face-to-face interaction you would achieve in a traditional office setting.
In order for the team to be successful, there must be trust between the leader and each member of the team. This is important because without trust, it would be difficult to get anything done.
The best way to establish trust is by being transparent and honest with everyone on the team, which can be achieved by communicating frequently through virtual tools like video conferencing and instant messaging.
This is especially difficult to achieve virtually as trust isn’t a quantifiable metric. It is something that is built over time, and with a great deal of effort.
In order to help your virtual team grow and improve, it is important to provide feedback on a regular basis. This can be done through one-on-one meetings, team meetings, or even just simple check-ins via email or instant message.
Leaders should set up a system for feedback and use tools like Microsoft Outlook and its in-built calendar to schedule check-in meetings every month.
This ensures feedback is consistent and is not skipped over in the name of being “too busy”, which is an unfortunately common phenomenon.
Things will not always go as planned, especially in a virtual setting. It is important for the leader to be adaptable and able to change course when necessary.
This means being flexible and open-minded, as well as having a backup plan in case something goes wrong.
5 Actionable Ways to Better Lead a Virtual Team
Points to consider are all well and good, but leaders need actionable ways they can implement in real life. Let’s go through 5 of these ways to better lead a virtual team.
1. Get to Know Your Team Members
This is important in any team setting, but is especially crucial when leading a virtual team. One of the best ways to do this is by hosting regular video calls or webinars where everyone has a chance to introduce themselves.
This gives you an opportunity to learn about each team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication style.
It’s also important to take the time to get to know each team member on a personal level. Ask about their hobbies, families, pets, etc. This will help you build a better rapport and trust with your team.
2. Define Roles and Responsibilities
When leading a virtual team, it’s important to make sure that everyone knows their role and what is expected of them. This will help to avoid any confusion or overlap in tasks, and will ensure your employees are proactive and don’t need their hand held.
Each team member should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and how they contribute to the team’s overall goal. This can be done by creating a responsibility matrix or using project management software to assign tasks.
3. Set Clear Expectations
In order for a virtual team to be successful, it’s important that everyone is on the same page in terms of what is expected of them. This means setting clear goals and deadlines for each task.
4. Invest in Communication Tools
Since virtual teams are not able to meet in person, it’s important to invest in communication tools that will make it easy for team members to stay connected. Some examples of popular communication tools include Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype.
Each of these tools has different features that can be beneficial for virtual teams, so it’s important to choose the one that best fits your team’s needs.
For example, Slack is great for real-time messaging while Zoom offers video conferencing capabilities.
5. Encourage Innovation
Virtual teams need to be able to collaborate effectively in order to succeed. This means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing idea.
One way to encourage innovation is to use a collaborative tool like Google Docs or Dropbox Paper. These tools allow team members to work on documents simultaneously and see each other’s changes in real-time. This can lead to new ideas being brought about.
Another way to encourage innovation is to host regular brainstorming sessions where team members can share their ideas.
Virtual Leadership Training: How can you Learn to Lead?
There are many online courses and programs that can help leaders of virtual teams learn the necessary skills to be successful.
One example are the various Virtual Leadership Programmes offered by the Centre for Creative Leadership. This programme is designed to teach leaders how to effectively manage virtual teams and work in a remote environment.
The program has a number of core virtual leadership programmes depending on your situation, including the following:
- CCL Boost for New Leaders: ideal for first-time managers.
- Frontline Leader Impact: teaches the most critical leadership skills.
- The Effective Leader: for virtual, remote and hybrid leaders.
Each module includes several lessons that cover topics such as building trust virtually, giving feedback virtually, and developing a remote working strategy. Each program also offers a final project in which participants put what they’ve learned into practice.
Another important resource is Workplaceless. This website offers a virtual leadership training which is designed with the core purpose of helping leaders of virtual teams learn the necessary skills to be successful.
The Virtual Leadership Programs offered by the Centre for Creative Leadership and Workplaceless are just two examples of the many courses and programs available to help leaders of virtual teams.
With so many resources available, there really is no excuse for not being prepared to manage a virtual team.
Characteristics of an Excellent Virtual Leader
The first step to successfully managing a virtual team is understanding what it takes to be an excellent virtual leader. After all, if you don’t have the right characteristics, it’ll be difficult to manage your team effectively.
Some of the key characteristics of an excellent virtual leader include:
Being an Excellent Communicator
This is arguably the most important characteristic of a virtual leader. When team members are in different locations, there’s bound to be miscommunication at some point.
As the leader, it’s your job to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to be done. The best way to do this is by being clear and concise in your communication.
Another important characteristic of a virtual leader is being organized. This goes hand-in-hand with being an excellent communicator. When you’re organized, it’ll be easier to communicate tasks and deadlines to your team members.
Plus, being organized will help you keep track of what everyone is working on, which is important when you’re not in the same physical space.
Being Able to Build Relationships
Even though team members are in different locations, it’s still important for the leader to be able to build relationships with them. This way, you can create a strong team bond and ensure that everyone is working together towards the same goal.
This is especially relevant to new managers who want to get to know their team better.
Being Able to Adapt
Finally, being able to adapt is another important characteristic of a virtual leader. This is because the landscape of virtual teams is constantly changing.
For example, new technologies are always being developed that can help (or hinder) the way team members communicate with each other. As the leader, it’s your job to be able to adapt to these changes and find solutions that work best for your team.
Virtual teams are becoming more and more common in today’s business world. Although they have many benefits, there are some challenges that come along with them.
In order to successfully manage a virtual team, it is important for the leader to consider a few key points, such as establishing trust, effective communication, and providing frequent feedback.
Managing a virtual team can be challenging, but it’s important to do so in order to ensure the team’s success. By following the tips above, you’ll be on your way to leading a successful virtual team.
To the leaders out there — good luck!