by Wayne Turmel
When we think about working in teams, certain phrases come to mind: “We have each other’s backs,” and “we’re all focused on the same outcomes,” or “we care about each other like family.” When we work apart from each other, without regular face to face contact and lots of casual interaction, it can feel harder to attain, maintain and sustain real team spirit.
As with so much of being a Long-Distance Leader, it is not impossible to create a team that cares about each other, collaborates effectively and has high team morale. It does, however, require more conscious effort.
Building remote team morale works in many ways exactly that in a shared workplace. Think about what it takes to make a team come together:
- Everyone’s focused on the same big goal.
- The team’s success is individual success.
- People know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work often gets assigned or delegated with that in mind.
- Team members build strong (appropriate, professional) relationships that helps them work together. They create a shorthand, anticipate each other’s thoughts, and go the extra mile for their partners.
Each of those concepts apply no matter where our teammates are, but it can take a little extra work (and usually some extra thought) to make this work remotely.
Focusing on the same goals
One of the truisms about remote workers is that over time, they tend to focus on their own work first, and think about the team second. People need to feel part of the team by understanding what the team’s goals are, and how each of the members helps support that goal. How does your work output impact the others on the team? Are you having explicit conversations (both as a team and individually) that help create a common vision for how you all work and for which goals?
Making team success individual success
Is it? Think about your performance metrics. If you talk about team goals, but every measure of success is based on the individual’s work alone, is it any wonder that’s where most of their effort will go? Long-distance leaders need to ensure that Key Performance Indicators include both personal and team measurables. Coaching conversations should include team news (wins and challenges) as well as focus on that person’s efforts.
One of the hardest things for a remote team is to remember that celebrating success is a big part of this. If someone deserves praise, it should happen where the whole group can share in it. If your natural inclination is to reward the team with pizza at lunch, what are you doing for your remote workers so they feel like a real part of the team, and not bystanders? Gift certificates, delivering lunches to home offices and other little gestures can make the team feel like they’re enjoying the same event at the same time.
Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses
Many remote teams start off as co-located groups that eventually disperse. This works well for a long time, since team members already know each other and have a history together. They draw on that knowledge to know who the resident Excel expert is. Maybe you need to know who remembers the Jackson account and what you did to solve that problem? Over time, though, unless you create opportunities for people to become familiar with their strengths, challenges, personalities and work styles, you may get a group of individuals who find ways to work together, but you’re really just leaving that important dynamic to chance.
More work-based activities like work style surveys (we have a Free Disc assessment you can use here if you need one), sharing meeting leadership so people get familiar with how others think and work, and announcing who you delegate tasks to, and why, will help the team maintain knowledge of how the work gets done.
Building strong work relationships
Create ways for people to get to know each other. Use webcams or photos to help people put names to faces. Don’t limit chances for people to chat socially before and after meetings. Games and activities like NCAA bracket (or World Cup) tournaments, baby photo contests, or sharing fun “get to know your teammates” information on a regular basis create fun, non-stressful interaction that builds social ties.
Whenever possible, take the time to encourage peer mentoring and assign people to work together who might not otherwise interact. You’ll be surprised at the benefits this has over time.
We work best with people we know, like and trust. As the leader of a remote team, what are you intentionally doing that will help create a real sense of teamwork and morale? It can be done, it just doesn’t happen by accident.
Building team spirit is just one of the “rules” remote team leaders need to be following. Kevin Eikenberry and I assembled 19 rules for remote leaders we think will help you and your remote team find the success your looking for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.