Leading Remote Teams

With the increase in globalization and more telecommuters than ever before, leading remote teams is a skill that is increasing in necessity.   

Societal trends with Millennial’s and Gen Z are pushing more businesses towards adopting more flexible working policies allowing at least partial telecommuting.  Gen Z, in particular, doesn’t know a society without an internet.  They are very comfortable with newer technology and are seeking remote and/or flexible working arrangements.   

Leading them the same way you lead an in-person team will not retain and engage them in the long run.  A recent study with E&Y discovered that less than 50% of global professionals trust their current boss, team and organization.  Additionally, a lack of learning and progression opportunities leads to high turnover rates. 

Transitioning from an old school style of leadership will be essential in order to retain and build this new team.  Leaders of virtual teams need to be intentional in how they engage their widely dispersed teams.  They need to realize the incremental benefits of nurturing and re-engaging existing teams.   

Here are a few tips to get you started:

The highest-performing virtual teams make an effort to have face-to-face meetings with new team members within the first 90 days.

Create a team operational rhythm.  Schedule meetings for the same day, time and share agendas in advance.  Remember your 1 to 1’s and ensure that you don’t cancel them.  Cancelling leads to a lack of trust and a feeling of non-importance with your team.  Consider quick 5-minute check-ins calls daily.  A team of 6 only takes 30 minutes. 

Find opportunities for the team to engage.  Surveys have found that a lack of social interaction leads to lower productivity and a lack of engagement.  Keep an online open communication, such as a chat room, open all the time for team members to just hang out.  Declare, “break times,” ”lunch,” ”game time,” “check-in times,” etc.  It’s a modern-day version of a water cooler.

Run effective virtual team meetings.  No monologues.  Ask a lot of questions and opinions.  Validate that participants have been heard.  Call everyone by name.  Start and end on time.  Be concise.  Long, detailed information should be sent in advance.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  In an office setting, the hallway chatter reinforces organizational and team messages.  Remote employees need to hear those same important messages repeatedly.  Share how and when you like to be contacted for the ordinary and the urgent.    

Set expectations and hold them accountable.  Share what you expect the output to look and feel like.  Determine any processes or tasks needed.  Establish milestones to track progress and create a “deliverables dashboard” visible to all on whatever collaborative hub you are using.  Check in, without micromanaging, to lend support or provide opportunities for clarification. 
Establish team norms.  Create a charter to establish behavior when participating in a virtual meeting, such as limiting background noise and side conversations, listening attentively, not dominating the conversation, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace and no side work being done during the meeting.  Also establish which communication modes to use in which circumstances, for example when to reply via email vs. picking up the phone or webcam.

Personalize the team.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you should get to know everyone professionally.  What motivates them?  What stresses them?  (Consider DiSC as one tool.) What’s going on in their personal life at the moment.  Take time during meetings to ensure some socialization and fun as well.

A Two Legged Stool Doesn't Work

“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” – Vern Dosch, Author, Wired Differently

A Two-Legged Stool Doesn't Work

Leadership, culture and strategy are the trio that directs the organization toward excellence. It’s essential that they be in sync with one another.  Many leaders focus on strategy at the expense of leadership and culture.  A 3-legged stool will topple if only 2 legs are strong. 

Organizational culture is defined in many ways.  My definition is a system of shared assumptions, values, belief and behaviors that governs and shapes how employees get work done in an organization.  It’s the way it feels as you walk into different businesses.  At its worst, culture can be a drag on productivity.  At its best it is an emotional energizer.

So what’s the cost when a leader isn’t upholding the organization’s values?  It can certainly impact their ability to drive results.  Poor leadership can reinforce the wrong values, behaviors and attitudes. 

They can create toxic cultures and discord between how a company is viewed and how it actually operates.  It can create confusion with staff who sees something written on paper and something else being demonstrated.  Many studies have been done that show leadership can have a measurable impact on results.  Leadership and culture can give a competitive advantage to your business.

A leader needs to…
Fit within the culture and model desired behaviors.  A leader sets the example for the organization and shapes the culture with their words and actions daily. 

Be self-aware and intentional-As a leader you need to understand who you are and have a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.  Your behaviors have an impact, regardless of your intention.

Connect with employees on an emotional level.  Put the cell phone down and give your team your undivided attention.  Reach out to others, engage them in discussion, and actively provide feedback.  If you lean more towards introversion, this is a skill you will need to develop.

Instead of trying to change the culture itself, which can be a job of herculean effort, try changing the behaviors within the culture. Behaviors are tangible and measurable.  Culture change does tend to follow behavior change.  What are the behaviors you want in the new culture?  Instill those in your leaders and measure them.

Focus on a select group or the opinion leaders in a certain area.  Pick individuals who are likely to model the behaviors and are likely to spread them.  Focus on specific behaviors that if put into action would have a great impact. 

Find a few things that positively effect business performance.  Maybe that’s how individuals speak with customers or how they are solving a client issue the first time.  Translate the new behaviors into critical steps that an employee can take.  Check in that they feel good about these new behaviors so you are tapping into their emotional commitment.

Companies can gain a competitive advantage when they focus on trying to change a few specific behaviors, tap into employees’ powerful emotions and enlist influential opinion leaders.

When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”   - Kenneth Blanchard

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

Are your team members committed to the goals of the organization?  Most teams fail not because of a lack of desire, but a lack of commitment to their goals.  A team that fails to commit...
• Creates ambiguity among team members about direction and priorities
• Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
• Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
• Revisits discussions and decisions again and again
• Encourages second-guessing among team members
How do you know if you have a lack of commitment on your team?  Decision are rushed.  There are concerns about timing and priorities being expressed.  There is a lack of confusion about how a decision was made and how or if to proceed.

Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity.

Buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support for a decision. Too often, consensus is not real. False consensus arises when, instead of discussing the conflict, team members just nod their agreement and move on. When team members are unwilling to weigh in and share their opinions, there is a high likelihood that they’re not going to commit to whatever decision is made.  Commitment is about a group of individuals buying in to a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree.
In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus. When people know that their colleagues have no reservations about disagreeing with one another and that every available opinion and perspective has been unapologetically aired, they will have the confidence to embrace a decision. This is not nasty name calling or throwing of insults.  This is spirited ideological debate regarding direction and ideas.  Team trust is essential for this process.
Good leaders drive commitment among the team by first extracting every possible idea, opinion, and perspective. Then, comfortable that nothing has been left off the table, they have the courage and wisdom to step up and make a decision, one that is sure to run counter to at least one of the team members, and usually more.
The fact is, however, that most people don’t really need to have their ideas adopted (a.k.a. “get their way”) in order to buy in to a decision. They just want to have their ideas heard, understood, considered, and explained within the context of the ultimate decision.  Setting agendas ahead of time to allow people time to think and process will help to ensure you hear from each person around the table.  Also allowing some processing time after the meeting before a final decision is made can be fruitful.
Clarity requires that teams avoid assumptions and ambiguity and that they end discussions with a clear understanding about their final decisions.
When it comes to commitment, the most critical ground rules that team members must agree to relate to timeliness at meetings, responsiveness in communication, and general interpersonal behavior.
They must also commit to other principles such as purpose, values, mission, strategy, and goals. At any given time, all the members of a team must also know what the team’s top priority is and how each of them contributes to moving it forward.
Increasing the commitment of individuals can have a significant impact on goal achievement in your business this year.  If you need help in this area, please drop me a line.

Long-Distance Leadership

Businesses everywhere are becoming larger and more global.  This inherently increases the number of employees working remotely and the urgency to know how to lead them. 

Common Remote Challenges
When I speak with leaders across the U.S., I often hear about their challenges of leading remote employees: 

  • What are “they” doing?

  • How are “they” doing?

  • Not enough communication

  • Unclear expectations

  • What and how work is being done

  • Less opportunity to “check in”

  • I need to be connected 24/7/365

  • A lack of trust

Do any of these ring true for you?  If so, you’re not alone.  As leaders we have the responsibility to overcome these challenges.  We have to take responsibility to fix it. 

We Need To Be Intentional
When employees are working remotely we can still have great interaction and communication.  We just have to work harder at it and do it differently than we did before. 

When we work together in the same building—or down the same hallway, the communication happens serendipitously.  We walk by and we say something.  The next thing you know a problem is being asked about, or a problem is being solved.  Trust is getting built with these small interactions over time.  Relationships are improved and productivity is grown. The same can happen with remote teams.  We just do it with more intentionality.

5 Skills To Sharpen
Here are some traits of Long-Distance Leaders that I found in the book the Long-Distance Leader.

Communication-  Our ability and need to communicate grows as our teams become remote.  I’ve never worked in an organization (even without remote teams) that ever said we communicate too much.  All organizations need more communication.  When you add the remote piece in, it gets even more important. And necessary.  We can’t just assume it’s happening.  We need to work on it.

Relationship building skills—People want to follow people that they know, like, and trust.  If we don’t have a relationship with the people who lead us, we will be less engaged and less satisfied. It’s important for leaders to have strong relationships with their teams.  At a distance it’s even more important.  There are specific things we need to think about doing and specific times we need to think about doing it.  We can’t take it for granted.

Higher EQ- All of the things you think that might be called ‘soft skills’ take on a greater meaning because we have fewer interactions when our employees work remotely.  Each of those interactions take on a greater importance and role.  A lot of it is being mediated by technology.  We need to work on our Emotional Intelligence skills because they play a bigger role. 

Technology skills - If I’m leading at a distance there are some technology skills I better have.  No one wants to be on a phone or a laptop when a meeting is supposed to begin and not be connected to the group.  Or think about the time that is wasted when the leader is fumbling during a meeting to open a document or find something and the team is just waiting. 

Greater intentionality –This is probably the most important on the list.  Leaders must be more intentional.  We allow more room for error when we see people in the hallway or see them 4-5 times during the day.  When we see people casually we are building trust.  It’s easier to engage our team and easier to know if they’re not engaged when we see them, are around them, or we walk in from the parking lot with them. 

So when our folks are remote, either part of the time or all of the time, we’ve got to be more intentional.  We need to be thinking about what we need to do, planning it out, making the other skills on this list a part of our day.  We can’t walk through the day the way we used to do and try to get the same results.  Even if we’re an excellent leader.  We’ve got to do some things differently.

There are probably more traits that could be on the list, but if you do these 5 well, you will be in better shape than most.  When we do these better, we will lead at a distance better.

Spooky Leadership

If human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween.
— Doug Coupland

Halloween is a day when you can bring your alter ego out and no one blinks an eye.  It’s a day when you can authentically become anything you desire.    When I was in the corporate world, I worked for a company that celebrated Halloween in a way that was second to none. 
Here’s how it worked and some of the lessons I learned along the way:

Teamwork soared
The employees would plan their ideas for MONTHS.  Teams would select themes and decorate their departments.  The project was held as the biggest secret until the day of the big reveal.  It brought teams together in a way that no ‘team building’ activity ever could. 

Creativity abounded
The buzzing energy could be felt.  There was an electric charge in the air for weeks before and after.  Engagement climbed, and employees felt empowered.

Leaders not exempted from the fun
This was not something ‘just for staff.’  Senior leaders dressed up too and went to all departments and locations creating a sense of community.  Employees felt a connection in a way that didn’t happen during the normal workweek. 

Imagine if every day were Halloween?
Halloween shouldn’t be the only day of the year to have fun at work.  As a leader, don't have a reputation of spooky leadership.  Create an environment where folks are laughing, smiling and feel a sense of comradery.  Ask your team what needs to happen to make it more fun on a regular basis. 
Know that when fun is happening, creative juices are also flowing, and this translates back into the form of innovation into your business.  High employee engagement means higher member loyalty and profits.

Every day is Halloween isn’t it? For some of us.
— Tim Burton

7 Tips on Creating a Culture to Drool Over

Trying to create a winning business culture?  It might not be as complicated as you think.  Much has been written on the value of a great work culture and how it can support the goals of the business and maximize profitability.  Companies that have bought into this are Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, and Edward Jones.  They seem to be on the ‘best of’ lists all the time.  It can be a significant differentiator from your competition and can create a competitive advantage for your company.  Who wouldn’t want to work for a company named on Fortune 100’s best companies list?  Imagine how much easier it would be to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent.  Yet it’s amazing how many businesses fail to make the long term investment needed to achieve this success.  Many focus instead on slick marketing campaigns, reducing expenses such as rightsizing, implementing new technology and spending a wealth of resources on any of these and more.  According to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People this is focusing on what’s urgent rather than what’s important.  There is no harm in the short term, but in the long term, this is just firefighting and not getting to the crux of what will make you truly a company that will be touted by your existing employees and creating a line of applicants of the highly skilled waiting at the door.  Here are 7 steps to get you started in the right direction to create a culture for which anyone would drool.

  1. Hire the right fit for the culture you are creating. This means being clear on what that culture is and even more importantly what it is not.
  2. Move the wrong ones off of the bus. This can be hard with long tenured staff who have provided much value in the past or are still contributing.  Offering a severance package and signed release of claims allows them to leave the business with dignity and grace and giving them security for the short term.
  3. Start at the top with senior leaders and have well defined values that you hire and fire to.
  4. Hold others accountable to the values you have defined. Incorporate these into your HR and business practices.
  5. Start with your own team. Invest in them and help them become more effective as a unit.  This is a great way to ignite other areas of the business once they have seen the positive change from within your group.
  6. Assess where you are and what needs to change. Conduct “stay interviews” to find out why your best and brightest stay and what they value in the current culture.  They have their boots on the ground and will be able to give specifics about what needs changing.
  7. Develop an action plan and stay the course. Changing culture is not for the faint of heart.  It takes perseverance but the rewards are plentiful.