How to grow a remote team
So you think that just because you got yourself a bunch of people with laptops and you’ve given them a common goal you’ve already got yourself an efficient team and that your project is as good as ready?
During the pandemic, for many companies the recruitement process moved online, so did the onboarding or the configuration of the remote teams. Many believed that all these processes would continue to function in the new conditions the same way they did before. But the management of a team working remotely and the entire communication process directed at this kind of team needs a different, a more structured and more empathic approach, one that should take into account the following aspects:
- Frequency: frequent enough so as to motivate (leadership) but not too frequent so as not to become stressing (micro-management);
- Quality: short and clear;
- Content: the amount of information should adjust to the selected channel.
It’s easy to see why remote work is best suited to mature teams, the ones where the group dynamics are already consolidated, where each team member has a clear understanting of their strengths and limitations as well as of their colleagues’.
But if we are talking about building a brand new, completely remote team then the chances that this team might thrive and give the best results are slim. Among the more important obstacles we could mention: the lack of clearly defined internal processes, the absence of face to face interaction leading to possible difficulties in assuming responsibilities which might in turn lead to a lack of cohesion, a different set of expectations from each party, and also the different interpretation that each team member might give to written messages.
If I think carefully about all the teams I worked with so far I can clearly map all the stages that the psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified and described more than 50 years ago in his group development theory:
- Forming (The phase where team members get together, be they freelancers or new members joining an already existing team. They start working together but they are very focused on their individual tasks instead of the more general objectives).
- Storming (It’s the phase where the personality and expectations of each team member come to light, when you get to see everyone’s work style, when potential tensions and frustrations will become evident. It’s a key stage in the development of a team because it can either make it or brake it.)
- Norming (This is the stage where internal procedures and individual responsibilities are defined, where team members start to know each other and start developing the team spirit, agree on a common way of doing things and offer one another constructive feedback.)
- Performing (It’s the stage where each team member knows their professional abilities, they trust the team, they work out of pleasure and towards professional fullfilment, the work objectives are met in an efficient manner.)
- Adjourning (It’s the final stage where the team’s work ends either because one of the team members decides to leave or because the project reaches its end.)
Every time a team gets a new member it will go again through all these stages because every new member that is added to the team creates a new group dynamic.
Actually, when we talk about remote teams it all comes down to trust: that of employers monitoring the time that the employees spend in front of the computer, that of managers who have to make sure deadlines are met, the trust or confidence that each team member has in their own capabilities or the trust that each team member offers to the others.
When working remotely we are all vulnerable.
We don’t know each another personally and still we have to count on one another. And this entails being able to quickly adapt to changes, it means staying agile and open to new experiences. We are independent in what we do but at the same time we have to take a step back so that we can see the bigger picture, the entire puzzle of the project that we are a part of.
And once you understand that every team goes through each of the stages mentioned before then you start looking at things from a different perspective. Not that of the authoritarian role of a horse owner but the perspective of the gardener who helps all kinds of plants to grow and flourish.