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Managing Virtual Teams: How To Be An Effective Team Leader

By vts | December 5, 2016
Managing Virtual Teams: How To Be An Effective Team Leader

Progress requires change. That’s a fact. As your company grows, your teams will have to change to move forward and achieve results. Your leaders can’t make the progress your company needs to make while standing still.

One change progress has brought to companies like yours is the development of virtual teams. Teams empowered to work together outside a physical workplace can help your managers grow, but they can also jeopardize that growth if leaders forget the one thing they must remember to make virtual teams work.

According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 66% of multinationals and half of all organizations use virtual teams to boost productivity while saving time and lowering travel costs.

Virtual teams enable your company to hire from a larger, more qualified pool of people and connect them across the globe. Employees get greater flexibility and the opportunity to work in their preferred environments.

But with the potential for greater productivity comes the potential for greater disconnect. A survey by Wrike.com found that communication was the number one challenge facing virtual teams, followed by lack of training, poor information sharing, unreconciled cultural differences, and getting bogged down in technical difficulties.

With these kinds of challenges, it’s not hard to see why many virtual teams lose sight of their leaders’ goals. The good news is that your leaders don’t need to feel lost when it comes to managing virtual teams. Although the techniques required when managing virtual teams may differ from those in an office setting, the core principles remain the same.

Relationships always drive results.

The Law of Connection

So how can your leaders reap the benefits of managing virtual teams while avoiding the pitfalls? By never forgetting this basic leadership truth: the greater the challenge, the greater the need for strong relationships.

When your managers lead a group, they’re not leading one single entity. They’re engaging with a collection of individuals gathered around a common cause. Each person has his or her own needs, wants, and desires. The Law of Connection states that leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. Your leaders must find creative ways to make the personal connection, especially when separated by physical distance.

When Aim Strategies interviewed 150 leaders managing virtual teams, they found that, “Connection is the lifeblood of organizations, and without a ‘human connection’ facilitating communication, virtual teams cannot achieve optimum performance.” In other words, connecting with people is still the key to leading a productive team—no matter where they are physically located.

Other key findings included:

  • 52% of VT members work beyond the hours associated with a typical work day. These people are what we call “lifters.” They show up early, stay late, help the people around them, and go the extra mile.
  • 65% prefer face-to-face communication to virtual communication as a way to improve relationships. As the Charisma Principle puts it, “People are interested in the leader who is interested in them.”
  • 40% prefer to resolve conflicts via the phone, while 18% explicitly said to avoid using email. The better that team members can connect, the better their odds of success when dealing with the inevitable personality conflicts.
  • 90% have team-wide meetings at least once a week. Consistent, scheduled meetings encourage communication, increase team efficiency, and boost overall morale and productivity.

Virtual teams aren’t going anywhere. Forbes contributor Micha Kaufman estimates that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be freelancers. But your leaders and managers don’t need to abandon what got them to this level of growth to take full advantage of the new workplace options.

In the face of this changing workforce dynamic, your managers must ensure that proven people principles don’t get lost. In fact, the one thing they must remember to do is the one thing every team has always needed—authentic connection.

Connecting in a genuine way with the team members they lead—no matter where they may work each day—is more important now than ever before for your company’s leaders. At the end of each new day, teamwork will always be about relationships.


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