Introduction to Leading Teams

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There are many, many resources on virtual teamwork. Here is a quick summary of a few of the tips that experts offer to help teams be effective in a virtual context.

9 Tips to Help You Lead an Innovative Virtual Team During COVID-19

  1. Create daily rituals to serve your team. Daily coffee breaks, quick check in meetings, simulate the water cooler with a short break. Don’t make it about work. Use the time to connect as people: “what is helping you. Here is what is helping me…..”
  2. Find NEW ways to connect with each other. Snapchat, Instagram, send a funny meme, video calls. Wear a weird filter.
  3. Check-in with people individually. One-on-ones, short text, quick email, video chats, phone call.
  4. Be creative! You don’t need to do things the way they have always been done before. Take your team meeting out on the street as a walking meeting. Do virtual co-working – turn on Zoom but you don’t have to talk unless you need/want to. Simulate having your colleagues in your office.
  5. Rethink your schedule and who needs to be a part of different conversations.
  6. Play/Fun. Dance break, memes, group chat, games, funny videos. Create safety and supportive environment. Don’t be a robot at work all day.
  7. Transitions/time zones. Remind each other to “leave the office” at the end of the day. Don’t work all night.
  8. Be flexible. People’s productivity is affected by what’s going on in the world. Be flexible to accommodate people’s needs.
  9. Reframe prompts. Help to model the kinds of conversations that will help people stay positive. Focus on what you can be thankful for, what is working, acknowledge the efforts that people are making.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Virtual Communication: Tips for Teams

    1. Keep up the rhythm – give the team time to prepare by having a consistent rhythm between meetings (e.g., meet weekly, have a quarterly review/planning meeting, etc.).
    2. Separate instead of co-locate – if some participants are remote and others are co-located, connect separately with everyone being virtual so that all participants share the same context for participation.
    3. Camera on- seeing people’s faces helps people to connect better, better read each other’s emotions, and builds team cohesion. Exception is if there is a technology issue that makes it impossible to use video camera.
    4. Talk before launching – take time at the beginning of a meeting to connect as people. Discuss how you will work together (guidelines/norms) and how you are feeling.
    5. Play – importance of having fun together. Take time to play (similar to tip above).
    6. Individualize, personalize – people have different needs and working environments. Set up the conditions for participating in virtual teamwork with each individual’s situation, needs and preferences in mind.
  • Check-out with intent – at end of a meeting, summarize next steps. Ask everyone to comment on what the meeting was like for them. What worked? What could be improved?

Making Virtual Teams Work: 10 Basic Principles

Michael Watkins, HBR article (June, 2013)

  1. Get the team together physically early on.
  2. Clarify tasks and processes, not just goals and roles- make sure there is clarity about who does what and when.
  3. Commit to a communication charter that specifies how and when you will communicate with each other. Agree on guidelines for behavior when communicating and which communication modes to use in what circumstances.
  4. Leverage the best communication technologies.
  5. Build a team with rhythm. (same point as above)
  6. Agree on a shared language. e.g., When we say “deadline” we mean……..
  7. Create a virtual “water cooler”.  Take time for non-work connecting conversations, have fun, share ideas and information that don’t directly relate to the task at hand.
  8. Clarify and track commitments, milestones (e.g., have a deliverables dashboard or task tracker that is visible to all members of the team that is updated in real time).
  9. Foster shared leadership. Assign leadership of different projects and initiatives to different members of the team. Have members of the team coach each other in their areas of expertise. Ask team members to facilitate a teambuilding exercise or lead a work session during your meetings.

Don’t forget the 1 on 1s.  Meet with team members individually not only to discuss what tasks they are working on but also to check in with them, coach them and connect them to the bigger vision for the company and how they are contributing to it.