Leading a team for the first time undoubtedly comes with a slew of challenges. On top of handling your new responsibilities and priorities, you have to build trust, manage conflicts, boost morale, and motive employees from afar. While the basic leadership principles remain the same, how you apply them varies depending on your situation.
If you are taking over leadership of a team—or even if you are concerned about the performance of your virtual team—follow this advice to start off on the right foot or move your team in the right direction.
Label your team
Think about your team situation. Which type of team do you have? Virtual teams fall into one of these three categories:
- Fully remote teams. Everyone on the team works in different locations.
- Hybrid teams. Some people, including you, are centralized in a main office, while others are remote, either working from home or in other offices.
- Flex teams. People are located in one office part of the time, but they also work remotely. This definition includes work groups where people do a lot of business travel, but mostly we’re referencing people who work from home one or two days a week or come to the office one or two days a week.
Each type of team has its own advantages and disadvantages and requires a different leadership approach.
Assess (or reassess) the team dynamics
If you are new to the team, you may need to meet with the previous manager, your boss and team members to fully understand the history of the team. If you aren’t new to the team, take a look backward. Has the situation with your team changed? For example, until recently was everyone located in one office, but now some people are teleworking? Did your company merge with another company and now team members are dispersed across several locations? Are you working more with freelancers and contractors to handle specific jobs? As the team has morphed, so should your approach to employees. Pinpoint what is different so that you can adjust accordingly.
Additionally, think about your team members and their strengths and weaknesses. Who is new to telework? Who has worked from home for years? Who is technically savvy? Who struggles with new technology? Which employees have worked in the same location before? Who is brand new to the company. Again, conversations with team members will offer you insight. This exercise helps you prioritize training and establish team rules and processes.
Acknowledge the challenges your team experiences
Each type of team faces varying degrees of challenges. For fully remote teams, people rely mostly on technology (e.g., email, IM and collaboration apps) to communicate, and that often leads to misunderstandings. For hybrid and flex teams, at least some employees benefit from face-to-face communication, which usually makes it easier to problem solve, resolve conflicts and brain storm. Fully remote employees have fewer opportunities for team-building and socializing, and they can feel alienated from the rest of the team.
Talk to employees about the challenges they face, and think of other potential issues. Many of those challenges can be addressed or even prevented with the proper processes and effective communication, but you need to identify them first.
Ensure that you take a fair, balanced approach
It is all too easy to spend more time coaching and to offer more opportunities to those employees who are in the office with you all, or at least some, of the time because you have face time with them. On the contrary, you may feel that you have to check in with remote employees (or even micromanage them) to ensure that they are on top of their work.
Regardless where employees are located, you should be treating them fairly, offering them the same opportunities, and providing them with the coaching and training they need to succeed and take their careers to the next level. Make sure that you have a plan to motivate, inspire, coach and lead all your employees.
When you first take the reins, or when your team’s performance needs an overhaul, take those steps to surface problems, address issues and put into place processes that eliminate challenges. You team will be much stronger as a result.
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