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Nr. 1 Mistake leading a virtual team - After 6 years it still applies!

I wrote this article more than 6 years ago “No. 1 Mistake: Leading a Virtual Team Like Any Other Team at the Office!” and about 5 habits for great virtual leadership. Reading it again in regards to the current situation, I think the message has become even more relevant. Would I adjust some of my points - the answer is not really - maybe just add a few things and emphasis that it works.

Since May 2019 I have been involved, as a project manager, in a global it rollout with a global team - Australia, India, Spain, Denmark and Canada - 5 different time zones… and we managed to keep our project timeline and almost our budget until COVID-19 happened. At this stage, we need to re-plan and adjust our implementation approach, so we hopefully only need to extend a few months...

Reflection on the article with my last year’s learnings:

1. Focus on the process. The only reason we have been able to keep our timeline is because I, as a project manager, have more or less focusing on what’s next. My finest job has been to gather and lay down the stones to be stepped on based on each SME’s activities. I have questioning the sequence and what’s blocking them for doing the tasks and if there was any roadblocks I have support each of them to solve it fast so they could continue their work.

2. Delegate to the group. From the beginning I have empowered the whole team to take responsibility and define their own stream of work with inputs from the team - and it’s the only way this project has been able to succeed. In the beginning of the project, we had a 3-day accelerated kick off workshop in Copenhagen where we build a common transformation map; project charters for each stream and assessed potential risks and how to mitigate them. This gave the team alignment and consensus of what we believed where ahead of us. The workshop included people from the business, IT and vendors so we are all on the same page when each of us went back to our corner of the world.

This foundation we made in this workshop has been without question the most important milestone we had. Of course we updated the plan and activities several times as we came more into the project but every single team member was committed to the transformation map and their stream. Our milestones and deliverables have been more or less met as we intended from the beginning. Six months into the project we had a new workshop in Mumbai because the project was about to go into the next phase of the project. 

Again - it’s the team that makes the difference - and in this project we all needed to be very very flexible of our working hours. In some sectors this will not be possible - but if it wasn’t for the team’s commitment and flexibility, we couldn’t have come this far in the given time frame.

The team has been working on very unusual hours - late and I mean very late. Our guys in Canada have been working in the time span 9pm - 8am and Denmark/Spain has been working between 5am - 8pm and India and Australia from 9am - 11pm. And remember - these people also has their normal day-to-day activities besides this project which makes it even more impressive that they work these crazy hours.

I’m so impressed and humble to work with these guys and therefore I do everything I can to go the extra mile to support where I can - a huge lessons for any project manager - you are their guiding servant at anytime!

3. Communicate without Email. I have to admit - it is so damn difficult to not use email - it is a habit that is so hard to get rid off but in some cases it still a good option. I still try and can only recommend to reduce the number of emails and use other communication tools. A tool we have been using a lot is WhatsApp which we have used to communicate across the different continent - especially if we were away from our computer and/or we were in a country where we don’t have coverage other than wifi.

I know this tool might not be allowed in most company it policies but for our project it is needed for our instant collaboration to succeed.

4. Become visible in space. Communicate communicate communicate... and leverage all possibilities collaboration technologies and use an umbrella like Microsoft Teams to be the hub. I’m a big Mac fan but in this project I have gain very much respect for Microsoft Teams and how to integrate all kinds of components. 

I’ve added Wiki for FAQ, OneNote for meeting minutes, Planner for all our activities, Shared folders for documentation and presentations, Yammer for communicating to stakeholders and “friends of the project” and WhatsApp for instant messaging. All this is visible and transparent for the whole team including external partners.

In my previous article, I pointed out Yammer - I have always - and still is - very fond of this tool but my view of it’s usage has changed a bit since this project experience because the functionality I originally intend it’s usage, we use WhatsApp instead. Yammer is a fantastic tool to communicate progress with you team and your stakeholders but for team collaboration I’d prefer WhatsApp.

5. 24-45-48 - rule. This rule or more of a principle is still valid - basically it’s about be efficient in your communication and be prepared for any given meeting. I tend to only book 30 minutes call because it’s difficult to keep people’s attention. Again there are a variety of meetings but common for every virtual meeting you hold is that you need to have a single purpose and objective for it. You can read also read and get inspiration for how to run effective meetings both physical and virtual with a simple 4-step process. An article I also wrote more than 6 years ago and still valid.

How can we help? All this… we developed and launched an online course in Virtual Project Management and Leadership with Ubiquity University in 2015 - a 12-week macro course and a 4-week micro course. We do also offer this 4-week online course in-house for companies on their own technology platform to enable even better learning experience.

Anyway... – I hope this can give some inspiration and food for thoughts for how to work in a virtual setting the coming months.


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