Once a year, most of us head to the doctor for an annual physical. Your team needs a regular examination, too, and for the same reasons. That's even more true if you have team members who work remotely, where problems can arise unnoticed.
As with an annual physical, you want to confirm what's healthy and working, while identifying potential problems. You need to deal with them before they become bigger (and more expensive and potentially fatal) issues.
You probably already know some of what you'll find - it's not like you don't know those extra few pounds you're carrying. Similarly, you're probably aware that some people are not participating in the team's work as frequently or at the same high level as others. In both cases it could be a minor problem that you're aware of, or a symptom of a much bigger challenge that requires drastic action. The point being, if you can't quantify a problem, it's hard to address it.
So what are the things you should be watching for? In our work with clients, we have found three areas that best reflect the overall health of a remote team, whether you're an intact group or a virtual team thrown together for a single project.
We do a simple assessment, asking leaders a group of questions in three areas: Task completion (is work getting done, how well and by whom?), team relationships (are people actively helping each other and pulling together? Is there trust on the team?) , and communication (are there barriers, technological, personal and cultural) issues.
This assessment can be as simple or complex as possible, but just as with a medical exam, there will still be probing - and possibly some embarrassment. Here's what to look for:
Task completion is all about the work getting done:, by whom and to what standard. You're looking for areas that aren't working well. Sometimes it's an individual's work that is suffering, other times it's more consistent and systemic. Some of what you'll find out is obvious—so and so isn't getting work done as well or as often as the rest of the team.
As you dig, though, you may discover the reasons for that aren't obvious. Does the team know each other's deliverables? Do they hold each other accountable? Are they late because necessary information or resources don't arrive in a timely or efficient manner?
Team relationships Yes, managers need to constantly assess their relationship with the individual members of the team. But what often determines a team's true productivity and effectiveness is their relationships with each other. Are they proactive in communicating with each other, or do they funnel everything through you? Do they trust each other, or is there one group or individual that isn't trusted?
Sometimes the problem is merely distance and time zones. But if you have people in the same office or town who only communicate through email, well there might be larger issues there.
Communication in this case is not only the flow of information and data. Good communication is more than simply the efficient transfer of data. Are people proactively reaching out to each other? Do they take advantage of the technology at their disposal or do they use distance as an excuse? Do they choose the right tool for the right job or simply do everything through email and avoid actually speaking to each other as much as possible? This is about both the technicalities of communicating, and the attitudes that drive behavior.
Maybe one of your New Year's resolutions should be to schedule two physicals: one for you, one for your team.