It is challenging enough to be the manager of an office where everyone is in the same building, so imagine the difficulties in managing a virtual team. This type of leadership requires some different skills, and some skills that are not so different.
The key is to understand that a virtual team or an actual team is still a group. By creating an identifiable culture that brings people together, respects their input and ideas, and empowers them to challenge themselves and the team you have a winning combination.
- Set goals – goal setting meetings that are facilitated by the team leader are an essential part of an in-house culture as well as a virtual team culture. Unless everyone understands where you are going there is no way to determine how to best arrive at the destination.
- Set roles – having real roles and responsibilities to the team creates that sense of working together. In virtual teams, it is even more important to set roles and responsibilities to help team members to know who to turn to when help is needed with specific aspects of the project.
- Make it people based – just because you are having virtual meetings and not face to face meetings doesn’t mean this isn’t all about people. Take the time to build in socialization in virtual meetings, just as you would socialize before a team meeting in the office or during a break in the meeting. Get to know your team, have fun with them and connect on a human level.
- Encourage communication between meetings – chat systems, texting, phoning and Skype sessions are a great way for the virtual team to communicate with each other through less formal channels. Some love Slack, Trello and other great tools that are out there. It may take the leader to set the example to do this, but knowing your team is communicating allows for trust, sharing of ideas and information and a better, more cohesive environment in the more formal virtual team meetings.
- Don’t let conflicts go unaddressed – as the team leader, dealing with conflicts, passive aggressive behavior, lack of professional courtesy or other issues between team members is going to destroy the culture you have worked to create. Use your conflict resolution skills to talk it out privately with the team members involved to get things back on track.
Ideally, even with a virtual team, try to connect on the phone and have a human connection (vs emails). This connects everyone much more effectively and personalizes the interactions in very positive ways. Together everyone achieves more – as they say – so make the most of your team and work together to grow.