Technology and complexity are the bold signatures of our work experience. Virtual teams, with the help of evolving communication channels, will continue to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed,” but our current reality seems to contradict that maxim.
How do we keep leadership rigour in a virtual environment that values speed, quick answers, fast results?
This question was given to a panel of CFAME Connection contributors, Binod Sundararajan, Nancy Fijan and Martine Durier-Copp. Please join the discussion by adding your comments. We would love to hear from readers.
Binod: Great and successful leaders intuitively understand that communication with internal stakeholders is paramount to the successful buy-in of the leader’s vision. When this communication is conducted with transparency, devoid of hidden agendas, and a faith in the abilities of the internal stakeholders, then the leaders gain trust from their internal stakeholders. There is no shortcut to this, regardless of the type of channel. Whether it be email, texting, blogs, wikis, internal bulletin boards, or social media, if the leader is consistent, on message, doing what is needed by the internal stakeholders, then the troops rally behind the leader. The communication to external stakeholders is easier, because the whole organization acts like one, and the leader has set the tone for the organizational culture. These points are relevant to the question because, if the organizational culture is such, then speed, quick answers, fast results are secondary to quality, consistency, transparency and a standard of excellence that can be unrivalled.
Nancy: I agree with Binod. Honest communication is essential. In my experience, a leader will succeed when there is clarity, commitment, tools and empathy. Clarity aligns a team on required outcomes and achievements. Every person brings a specific skillset to the table; for a team to come together, there must be an understanding of individual roles and how the team will work together to track progress and accomplish goals. A leader seeks the 100% commitment of each team member, gaining agreement to prepare, be present and be accountable. Optimum tools, at minimum, connecting by phone/conference line are essential for virtual teams to operate. Better still, virtual whiteboards for creative brainstorming, video conferences or Webex for face time/chat box capability, and Dropbox or Google docs to track collateral/materials.
The most critical element, especially in a virtual environment, is empathy. Stuff happens, especially across time zones and continents. Not everyone on a virtual team is encountering a blizzard that has shut one city down. Pitching in and helping each other out during a difficult time creates a stronger personal and team connection. Embracing the concept of iteration allows for flexibility during momentum blips whilst making the team feel like progress is still being made.
Martine: Binod’s and my research confirms Nancy’s best practices. Virtual teams face three challenges: goal alignment, knowledge sharing and motivation. We have found that major communication breakdowns and conflicts in virtual teams can be mitigated through leadership intervention. If issues do arise, members of the team and team leaders will be better equipped to take action and reduce negative team results. Trustworthiness and cooperativeness are essential for positive team relationships. Trust forms while completing tasks and allows teams to expand outside the scope of their assignment to complete a project. Effective leadership seeks to create an environment that fosters interpersonal trust, shared vision, and effective decision making.