F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "The sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function". By this litmus test, I'm something of a genius, as are many of you. Specifically, there are two opposing ideas when it comes to leading remote teams:
Idea 1: The fact that we're tenuously connected by technology makes leading teams more difficult than ever. If you can't see and communicate regularly with teammates, how are you expected to be productive, effective and build great team communication?
Idea 2: The technology exists and is better than ever, so that's not really an excuse. After all, Queen Victoria managed to turn half the globe red without holding a single conference call. It's very doable.
So are our emotional, informational and social tethers reasons for poor management and team dynamics or is it simply an excuse? The answer may be as much perception as reality, because it can be a bit of both.
It's a barrier if you don't have the right tools: all teams should have the basic tools to get the job done. We need a mix of asynchronous (email, shared files, online manuals and FAQs) and synchronous (instant messaging, phone, web conferencing). A critical project team may need different tools than customer service or not. So when was the last time you assessed the tools and asked the users?
It's an excuse if you have them but don't use them: Companies that roll out tools like WebEx, Lync and others complain that the tools work fine, but people don't use them. Studies show 80% of people use only 25% of the features. Don't blame the tools if you aren't using them properly.
It's a barrier if your leaders don't understand team dynamics, and virtual team dynamics in particular: So many leaders are thrown into leadership with the assumption that they will figure it out. How's that working for you?
Are you offering your remote team leaders the skills, knowledge, training and resources they need to adjust to the new way we're working? Are you explicitly addressing the challenges of working remotely or just assuming people will make the connection from their past knowledge and experience?
It's an excuse if they know, but don't follow through. Do your managers get held to account for the specific challenges of working remotely? Is effective technology use part of their performance management plan? Are you getting good, honest feedback from team members and coaching your leaders to address skill gaps? Why not?
It's a barrier if time zones, company policy or technology get in the way of rich, impactful communication: Logistics sometimes get in the way of the kind of conversation and information sharing we conduct. (Really - you're still restricting the use of webcams, webinar tools or long distance phone calls? Seriously?)
It's an excuse if the only reason it's not happening, is it's "easier" not to take advantage of the tools. If, as a manager you're sending an email because it's fast and efficient, you're making a good choice. If you're sending an email because you really don't want to talk to the person on the end of the phone or you aren't comfortable using the webmeeting tools, then you're making bad choices.
Understanding team dynamics means you're eliminating valid reasons for failure. Offering the right technology takes that reason off the table. Offering training, development and resources removes more of them. After that it's a question of whether you and your leaders are consciously deciding (and being held accountable for) its proper use and application.
Anything else isn't a real reason, it's an excuse.