By Wayne Turmel

Chances are, you work with at least one virtual “employee” who doesn’t actually report to you. It’s common, and increasingly, managers are tasked with hitting obectives and completing projects when they don’t have managerial authority over the people responsible for doing the work.

If you fall into that category, it can be extremely frustrating. After all, the success of the project falls on your shoulders, but you have little to no authority to address poor performance, shoddy work or bad attitudes. You don’t have a say in hiring, discipling or training those employees who have a significant impact on the success of the project you are leading.

Instead they report to other supervisors, and the situation can cause problems for you and the rest of the employees who actually report to you. Instead of just “dealing with it,” follow this advice to make the situation work for everyone involved:

Understand their role and place in the organization

They could be dealing with competing priorities, so schedule a quick call with them to find out what else they have going on, and to learn about their workload. That does two things: You get an idea of just how busy they are, and you show them that you care about them beyond just what they will do for your team. Additionally, check in with their supervisor to work on a plan for splitting their time.

Both conversations will give you an idea of what you can expect on a weekly basis from them, so you can plan accordingly.

Offer opportunities for employees to get to know each other 

Employees who are new to the team or who will only be working with you short-term may feel disconnected and isolated. If you can pull the team together in a physical location for a project launch, do so. If that’s not possible, still hold web meetings or conference calls early to build rapport. During that first meeting, introduce everyone and explain what roles they will play.

Beyond that, make it easy for employees to communicate with one another, and don’t operate under a “hub and spoke” process where you expect all communication to flow through you. You can encourage both newcomers and your team members to do so, by saying things like “Talk to Suzanne about that; she can fill you in better than I can” or “Brian can help you make that decision” when people try to make you the middle man or woman.

Communication really is the key to building the type of relationships where team members will go out of their way for each other, hold each other accountable, and really do their best for the team.

Influence ideal behavior 

This applies under almost any circumstances, but it’s particularly true when teammates don’t report to you. People will give you as much effort as they are motivated to give, and probably not much more. Keep people engaged and excited about the project and the big picture, not just the tasks involved. Help them see how their contributions will pay off.

Perhaps most important, model the kind of behavior you expect, and ensure your employees are doing the same. If everyone on your team treats newcomers with respect, they will more likely return the favor.

Don’t be afraid to confront unacceptable behavior 

Unfortunately, you may deal with some difficult people that are hard to work with. They may treat your employees poorly, make the tasks you assign them a low priority, or refuse to follow the processes and rules of the team. While you may not be the person’s boss, you are the boss of the project, and you can set expectations for both the quality of work and how it is executed.

Don’t ignore poor performance or behavior because a person doesn’t report to you. You have an obligation to the employees who do report to you, and if the newcomer is making it harder to do their jobs, you must address the behavior.

You don’t have to use threats and coercion, but do say to the person something like “I understand that you have other tasks to do, but this is a top priority for us, so we need to figure out a way for you to meet your obligation to this team” or “On this team, we do not talk to each other that, so when you are working with my employees, refrain from speaking that way.”

While it’s always ideal to work the issue out directly with the person, if the behavior continues, you will have to take the issue up with the person’s direct supervisor, and if that doesn’t change matters, to your boss or HR.

That said, it’s my experience that generally people like working on new teams, learning skills and connecting with new people, so it’s my hope that you won’t deal with difficult people. On the positive side, it’s a great opportunity to help your employees build their internal network, and your team can greatly benefit from new and different perspectives and ideas.


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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