Remote team problem solving

How do you go about fixing work that goes off the rails when you’re not face to face or you work on a remote team? We spend a lot of time around here giving out advice about how to make things work well. And, best as we can, we try to live up to our own high standards. Recently, I goofed. This seems like a good chance for a little radical honesty.

The details don’t matter much, except to say that it was project work and the timeline for deliverables got all out of whack. This isn’t an unusual situation on teams, although it’s rare for us because I’m surrounded by very smart people who are very good at what they do. As you are, more than likely.

Now what? How do you go about getting back on track?

Take ownership of the problem.

The problem with fixing a project or piece of work that has slipped is that someone needs to be the one to say, “this is wrong.” Ideally before the actual deadline has passed or the work is beyond repair. Sometimes you are the source of the problem or confusion. In this case, it was mostly me. Sometimes you’re not but if you don’t blow the whistle or step up, can you say for sure that someone else will? If you have a stake in the outcome, you need to act like you own it.

Acknowledge there’s a problem and define it.

“This isn’t working,” might be accurate, but it’s not helpful. In this case I needed to be very clear: our deadline was a week out, and we were missing important chunks of content.  That’s better, but specifically we were missing which items and how was that going to impact our delivery date to the customer?

Stop emailing and IMing and TALK.

Part of the problem (and I’m guessing this sounds familiar) is that there were a lot of emails flying around, some of which were inaccurate, some were late, and some weren’t just being read at all. I needed to put a stop to it and just say “we need to talk about this.” Again, I put the onus on me, but we’d have never solved the problem if I didn’t throw myself on their mercy. We needed to talk in real time, mainly because I suspected—correctly—that I was missing important information and we were talking “around” each other. It was time to check assumptions.

Talk as “richly” as possible… including screen sharing.

Very often people are using different words to explain the same thing, or making assumptions about what someone needs. In this case, the correct solution was to schedule a live web meeting. That would be tricky, given time zones and it meant meeting later at night than I’d have liked. But remember I own the problem. 

A web meeting meant we could not only talk about things in real time, but share the documents so we could literally SEE what the other person was talking about. This turned out to be the deciding factor in solving the problem. More of the work was done than we thought, but it was sitting in the wrong folders and not visible to other stakeholders. Once we had walked through the problem, it was easy to identify fixes and next steps.

Reestablish a new timeline including milestones, but also how you’ll notify each other and rebuild trust.

In this case it meant my using Slack to keep everyone in the loop as the new pieces were checked off the list, rather than waiting for the weekly meeting.

We were able to get the project back on track, and everyone has pretty much forgiven everyone else, as you’d expect on a healthy remote team.  Yes, working remotely was part of the problem, but with the right mindset, tools and talent, we were able to get things back on track.

Your team probably works pretty well most of the time, but how do you handle bumps in the road? How you address problems is critical to your team’s long-term success.

If you’re dying to know what the project was, we can give you a sneak peek next Monday, November 4th when you join us for our free webinar event, The 3 Ps of Being a Great Remote Teammate.  Check out the details and register. See you there!



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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