I can’t state this any more clearly. Leading a remote or virtual team is not exactly the same as leading a co-located team, but it’s not THAT radically different either.
Too many project managers and team leaders use working virtually as an excuse not to do the hard work required to make their team successful. What we hear most often is a litany of excuses (and I’ll acknowledge that the line between legitimate reason and excuse is blurry on occasion) as to why they aren’t coaching, or helping the team overcome some of the very real barriers to easy collaboration.
Here’s what hasn’t changed. You still need to behave like a leader. There are as many lists of those behaviors as there are leadership consultants and books. My buddy and sometime collaborator Kevin Eikenberry, author of Remarkable Leadership, lists 13 things every leader must do regardless of geography.
- Continual Learning
- Championing Change
- Communicating Powerfully
- Building Relationships
- Developing Others
- Focusing on Customers
- Influencing with Impact
- Thinking and Acting Innovatively
- Valuing Collaboration and Teamwork
- Solving Problems and Making Decisions
- Taking Responsibility and Accountability
- Managing Projects and Processes
- Successfully Setting Goals and Supporting Goal Achievement
Now, I have a rule when it comes to lists like this. It only takes twelve steps to stop drinking (according to AA) and any list that runs longer than that is asking a lot of mere humans. So you can argue if this is a comprehensive list, or if some of these blur together and the list could be somewhat shorter and less intimidating. What is irrefutable, though, is that a lot of these behaviors are made more complicated by working remotely.
Notice I said complicated, not impossible. Continual learning? It’s actually never been easier to have access to the information, ideas and skills you require, and you can get them in a multitude of ways. Influencing with impact? While it’s true you can’t sit eyeball-to-eyeball with team members in Bangalore, technology has given us a multitude of ways to communicate, both synchronously and asynchronously.
What has remained true with remote and virtual teams is WHAT we have to do as leaders. It’s HOW we do it that has become a very different animal. The tools and methodologies at our disposal allow us to do most of what we need to do, we just may not be comfortable doing those things.
If you are intimidated by delivering webinars, or the challenge of drawing information out of people on a webmeeting seems overly stressful, you may pass on the opportunity to use those tools. The problem, then, is one of adapting to the realities of virtual work.
If you’re a leader, what technology might you be using better? Is the challenge you face one of training (learning to use the darned thing), or willingness to alter how you work? Do you even know the difference?
No matter which list or model of leadership traits you are working from, ask yourself these important questions:
- How does working remotely make leading your team or project more difficult?
- What tools or technology can help me achieve this goal, given the reality of my workplace?
- What skills, knowledge or attitude adjustment is required of me and my teammates to make it work so we can get back to doing what we need to do?
What are you doing to assess how well you’re working together, and addressing any gaps you find?