2014_03_31-PM-mapDo you find that it is difficult to manage your business when you have team members that work remotely or are based in different offices? What is the issue? Is it that you don’t trust them to be working on your project? Do you think they will drop your job to work with someone who is in closer proximity in their office if pressured? Do you worry that they won’t deliver what you need delivered because they aren’t local and you can’t control their every move?

All of these questions are fair and common reasons for either choosing to do it yourself, often inefficiently or at the expense of other priorities, or reasons why you might not be getting the best out of your remote team members.  The difficulty you have as the leader in enabling relationships to be established and developed is often a contributing factor to the above issues.

Do you struggle to generate enthusiasm and an even contribution on your teleconferences? Do you find yourself doing all the talking on these calls?  Having worked in and led teams across multiple geographies and also studied the specifics of managing global virtual teams, I too have often felt the same.  Often in practice it can be evidenced by feeling like you just didn’t convey the message, or worrying that those on the call are not committed or fully engaged.

I’ll leave the nuances of a global team for a later post but I have some thoughts on how to get the most from your remote team.

When you are in or leading a great team, the team is connected, they know each other personally, they care about each other, respect each other and trust each other.  The relationships are strong.  So how can you replicate this in a remote environment?  Well it takes more time, more structure and more consistency than you might employ for a meeting where you are all in the same room.  You notice how there is a bit of banter, small talk about what happened on the weekend etc. when you meet face to face.  This type of interaction builds trust, rapport and an understanding amongst team members.  It is critical in the task of relationship building.

How do you do this with a remote team? Well I have found the following to be really useful tactics:

  • Try, wherever you can to meet face to face, at least at the start of a task. This is important if you have an ongoing relationship in business or are working on a critical project.  Make the investment to get the team together and make sure you spend time when you are together, getting to know each other at a personal level.
  • When you can’t meet face to face, try hard to meet via video (where you can all see each other, including body language – it’s harder to hide!). There are sophisticated systems for this or you can do group video calls on Skype as a simple way of connecting.  The last resort should be a teleconference.
  • If it has to be a teleconference, then when you are speaking, stand up as it allows better voice projection and energy.
  • Include an ‘icebreaker’ topic up front of each meeting, rotate the person who selects the question. This breaks down barriers, enables the team to have a laugh and build rapport and relationships.
  • If it’s a group larger than 4 or 5, nominate a meeting facilitator who acts as time keeper and observer for the meeting. They are not active contributors but someone who tracks the level of contribution of those on the call and makes sure the energy levels are up and provides feedback.
  • You can get a sheet of paper with photos of all of those on the call and put a mark against each one every time they speak. From a quick glance during the meeting you will see who is dominating and who is quiet and it will allow you to bring them in or change the nature of the call if needed.
  • Get organised, more so than you might traditionally be for a face to face meeting. Send out pre reading, ensure there is an agenda and some float in the meeting agenda to allow for contributions from the team.  You will have to work harder to obtain input from everyone.
  • Acknowledge the challenge of teleconferences and talk with the team, up front, about how you and they will all need to behave.

For further reading on team building and managing teams, have a read of Jodie’s blog, Winning as a team – all it takes is a little understanding!