6 Tips for leading a virtual team

How do you lead troops when you’re not with them?

A board colleague of mine has just landed a super job with a well-known global brand which involves managing a team of people across different locations. Pretty quickly, he realised the challenge of building a high performing team that don’t have the benefit of eye-balling each other on a daily basis and asked a few friends this question: How do you lead troops when you’re not with them?

The timing of his question was perfect because I had just completed a client engagement in Thailand that involved working with people from multiple countries. I organised an APAC conference with a team of people from Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA and it was held in Bangkok with 45 people from over 12 countries!! When thinking about how to answer my friend, I reflected on how our project team worked on this project over a 6 week period to bring all the pieces of the conference together. While most of us would agree that face to face communication is the ideal, few of us have the dream budgets that would allow for this too regularly. So here are some tips to leading your troops when you’re not with them:

  1. Make the most of your face-to-face time. Create great relationships when you do have the chance to meet face to face. Take the time to interact socially and make your time together enjoyable and meaningful. It will really pay dividends, making the distance easier and the interactions much more productive.
  2. Use whatever technology works best to get as much virtual “face time” as possible.The use of Skype, FaceTime or video conferencing is a must. Whilst it might not be the same as in the flesh, it still has a wonderful way of helping all parties feel more connected with each other.
  3. Pick up the phone. Resist the temptation to “shoot out” emails all the time because it seems quick and easy. Pick up the phone!! If you’re worried about the cost (especially if working with international teams), buy the Viber ap if you have an iPhone. This allows you to make free calls if you’re connected to WIFI. Better still, use FaceTime if you have it
  4. Communicate regularly. Diarise a regular time to “meet” – whether it is a phone conference or some sort of visual conference as described above. This is especially important when you’re working across different time zones.
  5. Develop a team charter. Work with your team to create a team charter that provides some guidelines on how you want to interact and communicate. This will provide some direction on when you should use email, when you should pick up the phone, when you should use some form of video conference or when indeed you need to make the effort to meet face to face!
  6. Share your documents. Find a way to share your files and documents for example, dropbox is a great way of sharing files wherever you are in the world.

The key point to remember is that virtual teams are the norm in our highly interconnected world and many companies have them. Don’t see it as a barrier in your own mind, just focus on the diversity and benefits that it can bring to your role and your world. Be intentional, be organised and be spontaneous about staying connected by utilising the plethora of communication channels available at our fingertips. And most importantly, make the most of your time together when you get the chance to meet face to face.

There’s a few thoughts for you! How do you lead troops when you’re not with them?