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'No. 1 Mistake: Leading a Virtual Team Like Any Other Team at the Office!'​

Leading virtual teams is about virtual facilitation. Management has never been an easy job and let me tell you - it is only getting more complex in a virtual environment because you need to add distant management and more information technology to the plate.

I will give you five simple facilitation habits that you can apply to your virtual meetings, communication and organizational change management.

This will increase your - and your team's efficiency with up to 100% and on top of that you will feel more cohesive:

1) Focus on the process - what’s next 2) Delegate to the group - empower ownership 3) Communicate without E-mail - P2P, ESM and/or VC 4) Become visible in Space - project your voice, slow down, and observe 5) 24-45-48 rule - get to the point

1. Focus on the process. Have you ever experienced a manager who gives their opinion on a topic they absolutely have no clue about? I have experienced it several times and it’s so annoying. The result is that the team shuts up; the manager diverts the discussion; delaying the project because the manager tries to solve something with no knowledge instead of letting the team do what they do great. As a manager you need to facilitate the process - not focus on the content.

2. Delegate to the group. Some managers feels so stressed and can’t understand why they have to do everything. The funny thing is that the manager has put him/herself in that spot from the very beginning because they need control. In every meeting, discussion or workshop they tend to take control and assign all tasks to themselves instead of letting the team take ownership.

The best a leader can do is to delegate as much as possible to team members because this will empower ownership. One thing is to delegate - your job as a leader is to make it visible so everyone knows who is doing what and when - especially in virtual teams because this will foster trust and transparency.

3. Communicate without E-mail. Have you ever experienced that your email box peaks at least once a week because your manager needs an update on something right away? And sometimes you’ll even find several phone messages on your voice mail? This leads back to point 2; that they forget to delegate.

But technology in a virtual team is crucial so as a project leader you can with great advantage use different technologies to facilitate team collaboration (and delegate). You can use peer-to-peer technology to get a direct answer from a co-worker or team member (short and sweet); you can use an enterprise social tool like Yammer to facilitate a group discussion over time and space.

You can use core web conferencing tool to meet in real time when a certain topic needs to be cleared. My experience is that these real time meetings are best used for coordination or clarification - not discussion. Last but not least - email should NOT be used at all - or at least only as a notification for joining the discussion using the other technologies.

4. Become visible in space. Have you participated in a meeting where you didn’t really know the outcome when you left the meeting? At one point, I had over 600 meetings in a year. On average I had 15 meetings every week. Every meeting was at least one hour long, meaning I spend almost 40% of my work time in meetings and workshops. Only 1% of these meetings was communicated and facilitated with a clear objective and outcome - what a huge waste of time.

As a leader - don’t make this mistake because you will loose your team.

In most cases English is the common language but usually it’s the second for everyone in the team. Therefore when you meet make sure they know the purpose; project your voice, slow down and be clear so everyone understands what is being said and agreed. Then observe the interaction in the team and facilitate so everyone participates and contributes.

5. 24-45-48 - rule. Have you experienced that your manager runs an email chain with the whole team but after a few days you don’t have a clue what actually came out of it? When you use emails as a primary communication tool, a lot gets lost, forgotten or simply ignored. Therefore as a leader you need to have some very simple and strict rules about how you collaborate with you team - my advice is the 24-45-48-rule:

  • 24 hours to facilitate an online discussion - meaning a full working day around the world. If you use tools like Yammer, Podio or even Sharepoint you should only spend 24 hours on a topic. After 24 hours your conclude and post the decision. A decision can also be that you can’t take a decision and you need to meet in real time.

  • 45 minutes for a real time coordination/clarification meeting. If you meet on like WebEx or GoTo Meeting try to keep it short and to the point. Otherwise people will lose interest and remember - only invite relevant people to this.

  • No more than 48 hours before your next update. As a leader you need to become visible in cyperspace. Therefore you need to give an update to the team on your team room with a cycle of 48 hours otherwise you become unknown and not top of your project members mind. Let them know how things are going - like closed activities, good news, bad news or new activities added to the list. Make it short and sweet.

Try to apply these five facilitation habits – I’ll guarantee that you will increase your team efficiency and on top of that you will feel more cohesive even though you don’t meet in person every day.

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