Virtual Team LeaderBy Kevin Eikenberry.

Until recently, when people thought of the word “team,” they thought of a group of people working together in close proximity. That applied to any sort of team, be it sports or work.

Of course, the world looks different now.

While sports teams still need to compete on the same field or floor, working teams can be spread out by location and time zone. Welcome to the world of virtual or remote teams.

Because our thinking doesn’t adjust nearly as fast as our reality does, people are opting to ignore the shift and continue to apply old team approaches to the new virtual team reality. That’s a mistake because this new reality isn’t going to change,  and playing ostrich or waiting for things to go back to the way they were isn’t an effective strategy.

This article will provide seven keys to help you lead more effectively in this new reality, all of which I use with my own virtual team:

  1. Clarify expectations. Having mutually agreed to and understood expectations are hard when you work together closely. They are even harder when you don’t see each other regularly. Provide crystal clear expectations to reduce the misunderstandings and confusion that can destroy productivity.
  2. Focus on results. If you don’t see your team members all of the time, you have fewer things to provide feedback on. Don’t worry about how employees are spending their time or when they do their work. Focus on results. Are they meeting or exceeding expectations? Are they delivering what they promise? Keep your focus there, where it belongs.
  3. Invest in relationships. Relationships are more difficult to nurture at a distance. When your team is virtual, make time to build relationships. Create opportunities for team members to do to the same with one another.
  4. Turn up the trust. As a leader, you must trust your team members more. Expect the best, but grant them autonomy to meet those expectations on their own terms. Set clear goals and communicate frequently, but trust your employees to do what is best for the team.
  5. Be patient. Some things will take more time when you aren’t in close proximity. Get used to it. Look for ways to streamline and improve like you would any other work process. Just don’t expect virtual teams to be able to do everything faster. Patience is key.
  6. Create actionable meetings. Meetings that are efficient and productive are key to a virtual team’s success. Schedule short meetings with clear agendas. Push side discussion off-line, and keep everyone engaged when you need to use technology to meet.
  7. Turn to technology. Speaking of technology … use it. This article isn’t meant to suggest which tools you should use, but do use them. If you are inside a corporate firewall, use whatever is available, and when possible, turn to external tools to maximize your productivity and collaboration. By asking some questions and doing a bit of reading online you can likely find a tool to support any challenge your team faces.

While many of these keys apply to any team situation, they are even more important when your team is remote.  Apply these ideas immediately and consistently and you will find your virtual teams working more productively with less stress and confusion.


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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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