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  • Writer's picturewilliam wright

Leading your team virtually towards whatever comes next

Updated: May 18, 2020

With the necessity of spending time on crisis management and in the haste to ensure that organisations continue to operate, many leaders have not had the time to invest in their virtual teams.

As the intensity of crisis management reduces, an important use of leader’s time is creating the right conditions for virtual teams to perform.  If not led well research shows that virtual teams tend towards reduced frequency and quality of communications, a lack of team co-ordination, reduced team efficiency, a lack of trust and an inability to resolve disagreements. It will be strong teams that enable organisations to remain highly focused on the goals that will serve their customers through the current crisis and move their organisation into the new normal. 


There are many basic tried and tested rules to setting up virtual teams that can be followed.  But very few teams to date have been 100% virtual.  And very few of those teams are at the higher levels of the organisation required to make virtual teams works productively.  There is no cookie cutter approach to follow but there are questions you can ask to help you shape how you lead your teams through this change.

5 leadership questions:

1. Are you doing the basics of  virtual team good  housekeeping?

Truly connected teams require clear communications and great meetings. These can be reproduced virtually, with some thought and pro-activity. Being clear on what you use different communication channels for and good meeting management enables this. Modelling the ways of working and values of the organisation play an equally important role.  Some of the areas that take more thought are how you tap into the informal networks to understand the mood of the organisation.  Setting up new virtual traditions, such as a coffee at 11 am, regular updates and checking in on 'one to ones' may seem like nice extras but they do help maintain the psychological health of the team. 

2. Are you leading what you need to and getting yourself out of the way of other work?

Recognising when you need to lead and when you need to facilitate the work of others will help you to fully leverage the team capabilities.  A leader that insists on being involved in all decisions soon becomes a bottleneck.  Ensure that meetings discuss both what needs to be done and how it will be done.  Then spread the accountability of delivery.

3. Are you continuing to develop your leadership skills?

At times of crisis one of the first things to take a backseat is often individual development. But virtual team-work amplifies areas where leaders are not so strong.  If you are not comfortable with conflict then it is easy to avoid it in virtual interactions.  If you are not proficient in setting and communicating team goals then your teams will feel more confused.  If you're not good at listening, teams will surely know in a virtual environment. Prioritising your own development will lead to stronger teams.

4. Have you communicated clear short-term priorities?

Individual and commercial purpose and priorities of the team may have changed profoundly in recent weeks.  Understanding and meeting your customer current needs now, may have a very different focus than even a few weeks ago.  Revisiting purpose and priorities now will help leverage the team’s strengths to meet the new objectives.  Teams struggling to adapt to new working norms will already be working less efficiently and this is likely to worsen further in the short term.   Clarity over what is important will help them allocate their scarce resources to where they are most needed.  A clear mission, regular meetings and shared goals can all help maintain momentum and trust.


Would you like to learn more about sense-checking, re-thinking, activation and renewal in response to uncertain future?


5. Are you looking at new ways of leading the upcoming change?

The questions to date have looked at how you keep teams connected and engaged to deliver current priorities.   A more critical questions for organisations who want to lead out of this crisis will be “what might our new normal look like?” and “how do we engage a virtual organisation to deliver the change?”. The bottom line may be that we have to learn to manage uncertain futures and that 'normal' will not return for some time. The reference models and best practice that worked in the past are just not up to the job, far more progressive leadership will be required to deliver novel and emergent leadership practice.

You must get the process and the tools right to enable change in a virtual organisation. The optimal process may be radically different with a virtual team.  You may need to employ different tools, for example to encourage creative interactions and engagement.  Smaller more focused interactions may be favoured over whole-day meetings. Meeting management needs to be thought through more carefully to inspire participation.   For sure, the fundamentals of successful change will remain the same and still need to be respected.

As the crisis management phase starts to subside the focus now moves to delivering current customer needs and thinking about the new norm.  Creating a virtual team by replicating a physical team with the direct replacement of face to face interaction runs the risks of alienation and disconnection.   Effort spent developing great virtual teams now will repay you with teams that participate more frequently in discussions, have more equal influence and produce more unique ideas.  This will create a strong foundation for the future upon which you can change and strengthen the organisation as it moves into the new normal, what ever is next.



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