Leading Virtual Teams

The impact of COVID-19 is now upon us. In response, many leaders are encouraging their people to avoid travelling or coming into the office. Beyond the obvious implications, what we don’t realise is that this situation is also causing our ability to lead virtual teams to be tested.

Although many organisations already encourage virtual working, leading virtual teams is still not a well-honed skill for most leaders. Our very human need to spend time face-to-face with each other and to lead through the concept of presenteeism still appears to be a preference, in spite of the trend away from it.

Whilst we all hope that COVID-19 situation will be short lived, I think it provides an opportunity to sharpen some skills which are critical to the modern working environment. And so, if you’ve found yourself in a place where your team are no longer able to get together, the following three things are what you should focus on to get the best out of your team:

Virtual Teams

1. Conscious Inclusion

As humans we shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to connect with our fellow human beings. When people are in the same physical location these connections occur more naturally. However, when your team works virtually it’s easy for connections to become lost, or to become transactional focusing purely on the task.

In leading virtual teams it’s therefore essential to never leave connection to chance. Be sure to schedule regular meetings both for the team to get together and also for you to meet with each individual. Humans need connection and so it’s important to consciously facilitate this.

2. Conscious Informing

As human’s we don’t like working in a vacuum. Over the last 20 years what I’ve noticed is that when we humans don’t know something we make up our own stories. And more frequently than not, the stories we make up don’t have a happy ending.

When people are in the same physical location it’s easier to pick up on what’s going on and to hear about important information. The stories we then create are generally a little more well informed. When you’re not in the office, however, it’s very easy for things to get missed or for assumptions to be made that people ‘just know’ things.

If your team work virtually it’s therefore important to always start and end every interaction with purpose in terms of keeping people informed. This includes explaining what’s going within the business, why you’re meeting and also what’s expected as a follow up. Humans don’t like existing in a vacuum and so when working virtually, it’s important that you provide as much context and information as you can.

3. Conscious Inquiry

As humans we want people to take an interest in who we are. It’s important that we feel like people care, because without this our sense of isolation grows.

When people are together physically, it’s easier to inquire about how they’re doing. We naturally ask questions like ‘how are you?’ and we’re more able to tune into their emotional state. When we are not physically together, and our interactions are only over technology, it’s easier to miss important clues about an individual’s wellbeing.

In leading virtual teams, it’s therefore essential to give greater focus to conscious inquiry. This means not only asking people how they are and what they did on their weekend etc, but more importantly giving time and attention to really listen to their response. Often in our high-pressure world giving this time can feel difficult, however the benefits in terms of building relationships and supporting your people are priceless.

With the impact of COVID-19 now taking affect, if you find yourself leading a virtual team, more than anything else focus on three things; be sure to consciously include, consciously inform and consciously inquire, because doing this will help create a high performing human team regardless of whether you get together physically or not.

Something to consider…

If you’re needing to lead a virtual team consider how you are currently leading your team.

Something to try…

Take a minute to plan how you can better focus on applying the principles of conscious inclusion, conscious informing and conscious inquiry with your team.

At Muru Leadership we create systemic, positive change in individuals, teams and organisations. To find out how we can help you contact Rob Cross via rob.cross@muruleadership.com.

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