A client once asked me to review an article that she wanted to use in a course on managing virtual teams. The article was from a very well-known magazine. It provided ten tips for managing virtual teams:
- Be available
- Organize regular meetings with both individuals and the whole team
- Encourage informal conversations
- Rotate (team members to different locations)
- Be creative with team bonding
- Treat time zones fairly
- Prioritize cultural sensitivity
- Invest in socializing pre-existing teams
- Look for shared understanding when recruiting
- Manage expectations
It’s hard to disagree with this list. However, nothing on it struck me as being unique to virtual teams. Shouldn’t leaders be doing these things with any team?
I decided to look for some other articles to recommend and found much of the same thing. They were good reminders of leading but didn’t really providing any insight into the dynamics of working with someone who is virtual.
There are clearly certain accommodations that must be made when leading in a virtual environment.
However, I’d bet that 90% of what it takes to lead an effective virtual team is the same as leading any team.
Working with virtual teams. Managing Millennials and other generations. Engaging employees. Working during times of change and uncertainty. Creating excellent customer experiences. Working in a data-driven environment.
These are all things we are being asked to do.
When a new leadership “issue” surfaces, there are flurries of articles providing advice. In most cases, despite some repackaging and fancy models, most of these articles pretty much just recycle the time-tested principles of good leadership.
Too many leaders are looking for a shortcut to becoming better. It doesn’t exist. Being a good leader is hard, intentional, and on-going work. If it wasn’t, everyone would be a good leader.
By putting in the time and effort to master the basics, you will be better positioned for any new challenge that comes along. That’s not to say that there aren’t unique skills, attitudes, and behaviors required for leading in specific contexts. It’s just that most of the time those build upon some of the basic principles.
So, stop looking for the next best new thing. Instead, focus on the basic blocking and tackling of leadership. Here are a few reminders:
- Respect and acknowledge people for who they are and take that into account when interacting with them
- Take time to know the people with whom you are working (employees, customers, peers, leadership) – what they want, what they need, what motivates them, where they struggle, etc.
- Make time to build relationships that aren’t just based on the current transaction, work, project, or job
- Adapt your communication, style, and approach to the person with whom you are interacting
Managing people and teams
- Help people see the big picture and how they fit into that picture
- Ensure that people understand specifically what is expected of them
- Provide on-going, constructive, feedback
- Ensure that people have the ability, information, and motivation they need to perform (not just employees, but customers and peers as well)
- Don’t use one-size fits all approaches when managing people. Each person is different – treat them that way.
- Communicate clearly, concisely, specifically, and frequently
Making good business decisions
- Understand your business, don’t try to fake it – now it
- Clarify the outcomes and define your decision criteria BEFORE looking at data
- Take time to frame problems and think critically about issues
- Always have evidence to support the statements you make (you don’t always have to provide it, but you should know that what you are saying is based in fact)
- Don’t do it alone. Collaborate, seek feedback, and know when to ask for help
- Respect and seek ideas and opinions that are different from yours
This list is by no means complete. However, it’s a start. If you get these right, you will already be halfway (or further) in following the advice of any new article that comes your way. Master the basics of being a good leader. Doing so will save you a lot of time in the long run. You won’t have to keep learning the “new” stuff.
Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author with Avail Advisors. Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication. Contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org.