Virtualising teams is all the rage. We get to work from home now and then with a flexible working regime, which can support better family life; and younger professionals are choosing to work from anywhere in the world. And businesses benefit from picking the best talent wherever they may be in the world. Everyone wins!
But managing virtual teams is more challenging than you might think, according to recent research carried out by business consultants OnPoint. They’ve been looking into the effectiveness of virtual teams and found almost 50% are struggling to deliver what’s expected of them, while a quarter of them are failing completely.
So, if you run a virtual team, what are the key characteristics you need to play up if your team’s going to be in the other 50%? OnPoint’s researchers interviewed some 48 virtual team managers and identified three characteristics of effective team leaders. And while these are obviously useful for any manager, they become even more so when the team is spread across different locations, time zones and even cultures.
1. An extrovert character
You might think introverted people would be best suited to a virtual environment, but the research suggests it’s the extroverts who are more successful. According to OnPoint, If you’re an extrovert it seems you’ll find it easier to bond with people no matter where they’re located. And this is crucial for:
- being approachable, so your team members feel they can ask you for help with, or clarification of, the work they need to deliver
- making those team members feel accountable for their results.
2. Managing initiative-takers
Inevitably with virtual teams, it’s not only you but also your team members who need to be able to work independently. So here you need to:
- be able to give clear and precise direction for others to follow,
- keep track of what those people are up to without micromanaging
- be tech-savvy enough to be able to make best use of the tools (Skype, SharePoint etc.) which are necessary not only to keep in touch with everyone in the team, but also to monitor the work each of its members is doing.
3. Encouraging collaboration
With people working in separate locations, some from their own home offices, it’s all too easy for each to get caught up in their own little bubble. You must guard against this insularity. Encourage team members to brainstorm together and bounce ideas off one another – in between the formal team meetings – so no-one gets caught up in siloed thinking.
And when the team’s priorities change (as they so often can) you have to be good at consulting with others outside and within the team, to work out how best to deliver the latest priorities.
Of course, not everyone has these key characteristics but, with effective team management or people skills training, anyone can learn to develop the specific skills necessary to lead teams, whether under their noses or spread across the planet.