Managing Remote Teams

Managing Remote Teams: How to Increase Engagement and Performance

Managing Remote Teams: Relationships First

Dear Karin and David,

Do you have any best practices for managing remote teams? I’m finding it hard to build genuine connection and to stay on top of performance when the team is so dispersed.

Signed,

On the Road Again #AskingForAFriend

How to Increase Engagement and Performance in a Remote Team

Employees working from home, virtual teams, and global teams in multiple time zones are an increasingly common reality for managers across industries. While some organizations are insisting everyone come to the office to work, the trend is undeniably toward geographically dispersed teams. To be an effective leader, you’ll want to master the art of managing remote teams.

When David talks with leaders about remote teams, one of the common problems he sees is diving into technology first, without thinking about why you’re using it.

To succeed with virtual teams and remote employees, think relationships first, tools second. As with a face-to-face team, what does your team need in order to succeed? The answers here are the same as for any team, eg: trust, connection to purpose, clear expectations, encouragement.
When it comes to managing remote teams, think relationships first, tools second. (Tweet this)
Once you’ve re-clarified these foundational team needs, then you can look for tools and methods to fulfill them. Key areas to focus on include communication, trust or connection with one another, mission alignment, and accountability.

Karin first tackled this topic back in 2012 when she was still at Verizon leading a remote team of 300 people around the country who were supporting 10,000 outsourced employees from 7 different companies.

In that post, she shared that despite the challenges, when done well, there are also some real benefits to managing remote teams.

  • Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have.
  • Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong.
  • Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction.
  • Teams feel more encouraged to take risks.
  • It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • When teams are together they work hard to create relationships and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder—remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction.
  • They make better use of tools and technology.
  • They listen more closely because they are not distracted by the daily noise.

You can read additional insights here. 

Many of our clients work extensively in remote teams, and in fact, we often leverage a variety of technical solutions to keep communication going across continents to create high-engagement while training these teams together, virtually.

Here are a few behaviors to focus on as your working to increase engagement and productivity while you’re managing remote teams.

  1. Establish and over-communicate a crystal clear vision and expectations.
    Managing a remote team forces you to be very clear and organized about your priorities and goals. Everything we share in Winning Well about establishing clear MITs (most important things), checking for understanding, and communicating frequently through multiple channels is EVEN MORE important when leading a remote team. Be sure your team knows what’s most important and why. It is more important than ever to check for understanding and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

    For example, to ensure meetings translate into action, an international project manager we worked with relied on agendas that are built entirely around the Winning Well meeting formula. Every item on the agenda is detailed as to the decision to be made and includes a clear ‘who is doing what, by when, and how will the team know’ outcome.

  2. Formalize your approach to informal communication.
    When you work together it’s easy to pop into the next office or catch someone in the elevator for casual updates. Don’t leave communication to chance. It’s helpful to formalize a communication process, even for informal updates, to keep your remote team informed. This is particularly important if some of your team are in other time zones.
    Mix it up – a common mistake when working with remote employees is to default to only one form of communication. Remember that people receive and retain information differently. In addition to project management software, chat platforms, and email, use a mix of more personal communication as well. There’s no substitute for a real human voice. We’re big fans of using video over phone calls whenever possible. Find creative ways to leverage technology.
  3. Be real.
    Building trust can be extra hard when face to face interaction is limited. A little vulnerability can go a long way. Find ways to get to know one another as human beings. Ditch the Diaper Genie® (or as this Fast Company article says, make an effort to  “talk about the tough stuff.” ) When people don’t have information, they make it up. And most of the time what they dream up is way worse than the truth. Reduce this tendency by taking time to intentionally “re-humanize” yourself and your team. Be vulnerable, be real, and use tools to help you make these connections. For example, one manager we worked with use a private Facebook group where her team had different fun and personal activities from sharing a meaningful object in their office to discussing what in their life mattered more to them than their work.
  4. Foster collaboration.
    One overlooked part of leading remote teams, is fostering peer collaboration. As the leader, it’s easy to become the hub of the communication, which can be extremely time consuming and limits creativity. Invest in building up the communication skills on your team. Encourage them to reach out to one another and to meet without you.
  5. Show up face-to-face more than is practical.
    Even with a solid communication plan, it’s hard to beat the benefits of spending some informal time together getting to know one another as human beings. If your budget allows, travel to your remote teams from time to time and invest great skip level interactions, roll-up-your-sleeves work, and some time to grab dinner or take a walk.

Your turn. What is your best advice for managing remote teams? 

Do you have a leadership or career question? Would you like some additional insight? Submit your question here and we’ll do our best to offer our perspective.

Overlooked for promotion again - now what

Overlooked For Promotion Again: Now What Should I Do?

Dear Karin and David,

I’ve been sitting in the “ready now” box on the performance potential grid for over a year. But this is the third promotion in a row that’s gone to someone clearly less qualified for political reasons. I’ve been overlooked for promotion again, but my boss says to “be patient,” that “my time will come.” I’m not so sure. What should I do?

Signed,

Impatient and Frustrated

5 Ways to Respond When You’ve Been Overlooked For a Promotion

Dear Impatient and Frustrated,

We are so sorry to hear about your situation and know how frustrating that can be. The most important thing you can do at the moment is to respond well. Don’t let your frustration at feeling overlooked for promotion bring out any poor leadership behaviors that could get in the way of you being considered the next time.

1. Keep Your Cool

The truth is everyone is watching your reaction. If the decision really was political, there will be others frustrated along with you and it’s tempting to commiserate and gossip. Resist the urge to complain (even behind “closed doors.” Take the high road.) Handling this disappointment elegantly will foster respect and differentiate you for future consideration.

2. Ask For Genuine Feedback

There are a lot of criteria that go into who was selected and why. There may be political reasons that have nothing to do with you, or it may be true that there is someone (or someones ) involved in the decision who have concerns about your performance or behaviors. Calmly ask your boss for candid feedback about what you can do to be best positioned for the next promotion, in terms of results and relationships. The feedback may be hard to hear, but it’s better to know.

See our post on 5 Behaviors Keeping You From Getting Promoted , our Fast Company article on communication mistakes that silently damage careers.

3. Be Supportive

Another classy move. Be supportive and helpful during this change. Be sure you and your team go out of your way to help the newly promoted manager.

4.  Channel Your Energy to Create Something Extraordinary

You’re fired up. Use that powerful emotional energy to fuel your creativity and your next stand-out move.

5. Remember How This Feels

Someday someone will come to you frustrated at being overlooked for promotion and asking for candid feedback. Remember how you wanted to be treated during this time and use that to inform your leadership in the future.

Most of all, remember that your team is watching. Your brand is at stake. Respond as the leader you are.

(Note: we recognize and have observed real discrimination and ethical violations in promotions. In these instances, a conversation with your human resources department is the place to start.)

Your turn. What advice would you give Impatient and Frustrated?

Have a leadership or management question? Send it here and we’ll do our best to share our perspective.

how do I stop workplace drama?

Workplace Drama: How Do I Stop It and Improve Morale?

Are you having trouble with workplace drama? Perhaps this will sound familiar.

Dear Karin and David, 

I try so hard to be an empathetic leader. I really do care about the human beings on my team. But there is one woman on my team who is driving me crazy. She’s a drama queen.  She’s got drama at home. Drama at work. Drama with her co-workers. Drama on personal calls … I want to show that I care, but she’s sucking up a lot of my time and energy and it’s dragging the team down. What do I do?

Signed,

Her Workplace Drama is My Workplace Drama

Six Ways to Address Workplace Drama

Dear Her Drama is My Drama,

This is one of the toughest dynamics for a Winning Well manager. It’s really hard to know if she’s overly dramatic or if she’s truly in a bad situation. You want to be approachable and you want to help. There’s also a limit to what you can, and should, do in your role. It’s time to establish boundaries and find her some additional help as needed.

1. Limit the Audience

Don’t entertain her complaints or stories in front of the whole team. Acknowledge her issues and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately.

2. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care and now you’re part of the drama. It’s easy to slip into passive-aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Stay true to your values as a Winning Well manager.

3. Listen with an Open Mind

Sometimes within the fury of complaints and drama about her experience on the team or at your company, there is something important to learn. Listen carefully. We’ve both had times where chronic complainers brought us real issues, we were glad we had the opportunity to address.

4. Engage Professionals As Needed

If she needs real help, help her find it through HR and your Employee Assistance Program.

5. Reinforce Clear Expectations

Assuming you’ve appropriately addressed the real issues, and engaged support, it’s time to reinforce clear expectations for her role both in terms of results AND relationships. An I.N.S.P.I.R.E. conversation may be just what you need here, where you notice specific behaviors that are destructive to the team and the work that you are doing.

6. Give Her a Project

If the drama is work-related, they may just have too much time on their hands. Get her involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

Who wants to play? What advice would you give Her Drama is My Drama?

Have a leadership or management question? Send it here and we’ll do our best to share our perspective.

 

my peers are lazy: how do I stay motivated?

My Peers Are Lazy: How Do I Stay Motivated?

So often we talk with clients or teams who are frustrated because their peers are lazy. Perhaps you’ve been there. What advice would you give to someone dealing with a slacker co-worker? 

Dear Karin and David,

How do I stay motivated when my peers are lazy? I’m working twice as hard as them and I’m sick of picking up the slack. My boss doesn’t seem to notice.

Signed,

Tired and Frustrated #AskingForAFriend

If Your Peers are Lazy: A Few Dos and Dont’s

Dear Tired and Frustrated,

We’ve both been there, and you have a right to be frustrated. Keep in mind that these peers are temporary, but your track record is forever. Don’t let the #$#%@#%@# slackers tank your hard work. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider.

  1. DO keep rocking your role.
    Stay focused on your MITs (most important things) to serve your customers and the business. Stay creative. Chances are your boss is picking up a lot more than you know. Performance management conversations happen behind closed doors. I wish we could tell you how many performance issues we’ve dealt with that we longed to share with the high-performers we knew were frustrated, but couldn’t. Be sure you keep building your brand with a strong track record of results and collaborative relationships.
  2. DON’T gossip or whine about the scene.
    Whatever you do, don’t let their bad behaviors turn you into a jerk. Take the high road, and count on karma. 
  3. DO ask your boss how you can help.
    Resist the temptation to start with the words,  “I know we’ve got a lazy team…,” if it’s true, she already knows. Use this as an opportunity to become go-to support. With a team of slackers, she can use all the help she can get and will be grateful for your support (and a grateful boss can never hurt).
  4. DON’T become a victim. 
    You don’t have to do their work. Stay focused on your deliverables and nail them. If your co-worker consistently drops the ball, let him experience a few of the consequences. Do your best to foster a culture of accountability.
  5. DO build a network of support.
    Seek out folks with similar ambition and work ethic to support and challenge you. Find a mentor. Seek out peers on other teams. Take on a leadership role in a professional association.  Genuine connections are lighter fluid on the fire of motivation. Find people who get you and you admire and find ways to spend more time together.
  6. DO speak the truth.
    (Or as we often say: “Ditch the Diaper Genie“) When a team member breaks a promise or doesn’t deliver on their commitment to you, it’s often useful to have a healthy conversation about it. Start by observing the behavior. e.g. “I noticed that the report you said you’d get me isn’t in my email.” Note the consequences: “We can’t take care of the customer without that information.” Then invite them into the conversation: “What’s happening there? When can you have it to me?” Sometimes just the act of personalizing work and connecting what you need to why you need it can help slackers pick up their pace.

Who wants to play? What advice would you give Tired and Frustrated?

 

Have a leadership or management question? Send it here and we’ll do our best to share our perspective.