If you work for a global company, as a regional manager, or manage across time zones, you must learn how to effectively manage in a virtual environment. Even if you use Skype, GoToMeeting, or WebEx, so much of your communication is non-verbal, making it more difficult to engage your team. One of my consulting clients told me she can sometimes sense the tone of voice and observable behaviors. You’ll learn to recognize when people may not be aligning or agreeing with the values or the task at hand. But it’s easy to miss the clues that indicate drama may be brewing in your virtual team.
Here are 4 ways to increase engagement and lead in a virtual environment:
- Educate and set expectations. At the beginning of any virtual team meeting or series of meetings, lay the foundation by educating team members. Give an example of how email and virtual communication can be perceived, and how easy it is to draw conclusions based on feelings and assumptions. Set some ground rules at the beginning about how to handle disagreements and conflict. Make it a point early on to reward those who abide by the rules, so you can start building a culture of trust.
- Question uncertain messages. Expect to have disrupters on your team. Make sure you distinguish between dysfunctional behaviors and disagreement. When in doubt, take a breath and question any uncertain messages. Use good judgment about whether to approach the disrupter privately or in front of the group. Anticipate that most people will deny ulterior motives. However, the very fact that you are willing to face the issue head on reduces the chance of being undermined or unprepared.
- Promote authentic feedback. Don’t wait to be blindsided by a disgruntled team member who has been holding back for months. From the beginning invite honest dialogue, ideas, and disagreement. Show the team that constructive conflict has value. Use technology features such as polling or open chat to get people engaged and test for areas of disagreement or opposing forces.
- Be more curious and less certain. As a leader, you need to be confident, but you don’t always need to be certain. Allowing your virtual team to come up with alternative ideas or opposing points of view invites dialogue and builds trust. Engage those who are not agreeable, and invite them to honestly share their point of view. When people feel they’re being heard, they are more likely to work with you than against you.
Managing your team from a distance is an increasingly common challenge in today's business world. Let AMA's resources help you navigate this ever-changing landscape.