How To Lead A Distributed Team
Personally, during these last years I’ve been working mainly remotely & hybrid. This experience has taught me to constantly look for new methods to manage the projects, to communicate with the teams involved and to motivate people as well as for ways to solve crises when they appeared.
Based on a retrospective analysis of my own actions as well as on what I learned from other people around me, I’m sharing below a couple of recommendations which I hope can help leaders to better manage their remote teams.
Define your vision and your plan
Having a vision and a plan is not an easy thing to do and it cannot be accomplished overnight. Sometimes, it can take you days or even entire weeks to define them but these are the central elements which will bring traction to all the rest of the activities of your team, therefore it is vital that you give these the appropriate amount of time and attention.
You cannot drive a train without a locomotive and in this case the locomotive is made out of two things: a vision that clearly states what it is that you want to accomplish together as a team and a plan to make that vision come true.
And the latter must contain as clearly and as specifically as possible answers to questions such as Who?, What?, When? (managing tasks, measuring progress and making the team take responsibility)
In order for a remote team to be successful, both the team and the management have to be aligned and to support each other.
Offer clarity and access to information
Quick access to information is vital for a remote team, regardless of whether it’s about a file containing documents related to the project, which has to be accessible to all team members, the status of certain activities or the strategic decisions.
The best way to make sure you don’t overlook any of these is to set specific dates in your calendar for sharing different types of information:
a) planning or brainstorming meetings;
b) project status meetings (ex.: weekly status meeting);
c) dedicated meetings where the company leaders share important information at organization level (ex.: quarterly all-hands meeting, town hall meeting);
d) project or situation specific evaluation meetings;
e) 1-to-1 meetings to find out about your team members’ needs, their professional development goals and the challenges they face. In some companies, according to the level of professional maturity, this kind of meeting can take place weekly, monthly or every 6 months.
Obviously, some information can also be transmitted through e-mails. It depends on the type of organization you belong to, how dynamic it is, how often strategic changes appear and what are the most appropriate channels to distribute it.
But beyond its chosen format, communication must always be a priority.
Be humane, show empathy
It’s possible that when you talk to your team members, most of the times you are mainly interested in whether or not the activities are performed according to established deadlines. But try to go beyond this level of communication. And don’t forget about the human or personal aspects of life. The employee who is executing a task is also a person with a life of their own and they might be going through difficult times about which it is important that you are aware.
Understand that your team is diverse
Over time, teams tend to go through different shapes and dynamics – evolving as new people join the team and others leave, and the level of professional maturity of the team members changes. At the same, each team member has a certain type of personality and work style.
Some colleagues are more introvert and would never come to you to ask for help, others are more extrovert and feel the need to share all the details of a certain activity. Some might need a bit more support while others might only need some encouraging words and a pat on the back to make them feel motivated.
When one is managing a remote team and you don’t get to see each other daily, it’s not always clear who needs help. You have to find ways to make your team feel that you are close to them. Try to see that each team member has their own specific traits and then take the team as a whole, because the team is like a living organism and you need to stay close to it in order to make it grow.
Maybe two of your team members have grown accustomed to working together on a specific type of activity, challenge them to work with a different colleague for the new project.
The team can be an endless source of expertise and creativity, therefore you need to encourage your colleagues to try out new things and to work with different people.
This will help them stay connected and inspired, and interact in different ways in new contexts and this will in turn develop their curiosity and enthusiasm.
Practice merit acknowledgement
Research shows that appreciation and recognition contribute to the development of work environments that grow and keep talents. Therefore, especially if you are managing a remote team whose members don’t know each other very well, you should make a priority out of recognizing the merits of each team member and promoting a culture of appreciation. This will lead to an increase in the degree of trust among colleagues when it comes to the professional abilities of each team member.
When I used to work remotely for Grapefruit, I challenged the project team members to take part in a meeting where each had to tell another team member one thing they appreciated about them and one thing they thought they needed to improve. It was a team in progress but I think that this exercise has ultimately raised the level of openness, transparency, and unity of the team.
Allow people to do their job. Set priorities, show them the way, but leave space for everyone to reach the destination in the way they consider best. Show openness so that they can come to you when they need help but don’t stalk their every step.
If you liked this article and you would like to know more about the abilities a leader needs to develop in the context of a remote team, I invite you to check these below additional articles: