Managing a virtual team comes with a unique set of challenges. We share five tips that will help to create unity and shared purpose.
managing a virtual team

Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry

  • Communication and leadership are key to connecting the team with each other and the overall business
  • Regular meetings are essential to managing communication flow and allowing time for informal chat
  • Shared cultural awareness across all team members is essential if your virtual team is located in different countries

Read on: Five tips for managing a virtual team

(estimated reading time: 8 minutes)

Managing a team is about bringing together a unique group of personalities and skills to achieve a shared goal. This is true whether your team is based in the same office or is spread around the globe. But virtual teams have some very unique barriers to cross before they can become as effective in results as they are on paper. Managers of a distributed team face the challenge of dealing with multiple boundaries, from cultural, geographic and temporal through to linguistic and structural. We’ve collected our favourite five tips for uniting a virtual team and making the most of their unique skills and attributes.

1. Be the best leader

Obviously as managers we all try to be the best that we can be. But virtual team management really does require that leaders bring their A Game. Leadership attributes that might be forgiven for slipping in a co-located team could lead to chaos in a group that is spread across the globe.

Being available to your team is essential to the support they need and the team you want to create. The traditional ‘open door policy’ will not work here. But you can counter the isolation of being remotely located by picking up the phone when it rings and making a point of touching base regularly to build a relationship. Functional calls will only yield time for informal chat if you set a precedent for it. In both 1:1 and group calls, encourage informal conversations that will develop insight into personalities, cultures and bonding across your team.

2. Create a clear framework for delivery

Successful remote collaboration requires clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Trust is built in a virtual team through reliability. So it is up to the manager or leader of the team to set in place clear structures and processes that make delivery achievable: creating clarity about what each member will deliver. This extends to making it clear what unique skills and attributes each team member brings to the table. Then through successful, repeated delivery cycles the reliability of each team member will be demonstrated.

3. Organise regular meetings

If you want to encourage collaboration amongst your team then it’s important that you create a forum where they are actively encouraged to participate and share. This means that you need to set up regular 1:1s with your team members and also regular group meetings where each member can update the team on their current status.

Because these meetings will be the main forum where your team will be together, this is also the opportunity that you as a manager have to be creative with shared activities that can encourage relationships and bonding. Consider the opportunity to reward the team for a job well done with a gift that everyone receives individually but opens collectively in the meeting.

If your team is spread across more than one country, try to be considerate in your meeting timings. You don’t want one team member to always have to get up in the middle of the night if your team is geographically located across 5 countries and multiple time zones.

4. Be the best communicator

Communication is not just about being there when people call, it is also about being able to share information in a timely manner to facilitate the working of your team. As a manager of a remote team you need to think top down in terms of the information that your team needs, and what they may miss out on from not being in the same office.

Start with company performance, objectives, goals, and the performance of other teams within the business. If you want your remote team members to feel connected and united towards the same shared goals, they need to understand the detail of the business. Keeping them up to date with how the company is performing is an essential part of making their work meaningful. Build a context for them so that they understand where their work fits into the overall business strategy.

It’s incredibly important that you provide the information that each team member needs in order to deliver on time and to the required level. Running your distributed team requires a well-oiled machine of communication and in many cases you may find that you are the conduit. As with work, set up clear communication processes so that expectations are managed about what information will be shared and when. Canvas regular feedback from your team as a group and individually to make sure that they have the information they require to deliver and feel connected.

5. Build and own cultural sensitivity

It almost goes without saying that working across cultures requires an awareness of cultural differences. Only by being aware of these differences can they be given proper consideration in the way that you work as a team.

One of the most important parts of building cultural awareness is ensuring that it exists across the whole team. For example, if you have team members from five different countries, you could be facing five different perspectives on how decisions should be made in meetings. Your aim in building cultural awareness within your team should be to create a shared understanding that we are all different, and then define a way of working that works beyond, or encompasses, those differences.

Building and managing a virtual team can be just as challenging as dealing with a team that is located in the same office building. And it can also require some unique approaches to traditional problems. Taking the time to share the perspectives of your team members will take you a long way down the path of providing the support that they need. Communication provides the key to uniting your team through shared goals.

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