Author: Rudi Carstens

Team Building and Events Management South Africa (TBAE) specialises in coordinating and facilitating interactive corporate team building, with programs designed to promote team spirit and participative culture. TBAE is renowned for the design and delivery of unique, innovative, fun and memorable team building programs, customised to meet each client’s individual needs, agenda and budget. Our experienced and highly skilled facilitators work in partnership with our clients to ensure continuity in existing training or development programs.

Handling Team Complaints About Team Leaders

Complaints are bound to happen and are normal in any team. While they can be troublesome or even annoying, effectively handling a complaint and resolving the issue can not only boost team morale, but it can provide everyone with constructive feedback that can aid in a solution. Do not discourage your team members from bringing forth their complaints. Allow them an open place to come to, and welcome the chance for improvement.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Keep the Information Confidential

Before a team member feels comfortable enough to bring forth their complaints about a team leader, they have to feel that their information will only be given to those that need to be involved. They don’t want to feel as though their complaint or problem will be shared with the rest of the team, or that they will be singled out as ‘causing trouble’. The same can go for team leaders – they don’t want their mistakes flaunted in front of others. Ensure your team members that they can come to you and their information and complaints will be kept confidential. If the team is still not comfortable enough to speak in person, offer another outlet that doesn’t require direct contact with management, such as a human resource agent or an anonymous complaint line.

Gather Information from Both Sides

When approached by a team member regarding a team leader, it can be easy to jump to conclusions based on what this person is telling you. But remember that there are always two sides to every story. After speaking with the team member, let them know you will look into the matter and get back to them. Then have a private meeting with the team leader in question and let them tell their side of the problem. Once you have both sides, if possible, have a joint meeting in which you can ask about both sides of the problem together. This may not always be an option if the team member wishes to remain anonymous, so be prepared to take notes on each statement and go from there alone.

Tips:

·         Take time to hear both sides of the situation

·         Hold private, individual meetings before meeting together

·         Be objective – avoid picking sides or becoming bias

Coach or Delegate the Solution

Once you have handled the situation and have come up with a way to resolve the problem, it is important to decide who will carry out the plan and how. If you are able to help implement a solution, offer yourself as a coach for support and advice. Sometimes team leaders or team members  aren’t sure where to go after a complaint has been resolved, so be there to help them get back on track and back to work. However, there may be complaints that you are not able to help carry out, in which case you may designate another manager or employee to help the parties resolve their problem. Since you will not directly be involved in instances such as this, ensure that everyone knows what they are supposed to do and who they can come back to if they have future problems.

Follow-up with the Team Leader or Team Member

After the complaint or problem has been investigated and eventually resolved, make time to follow up with the team member and or the team leader. Is there tension between the parties involved? Are working conditions any better? This can be done in a variety of ways, including quick check-ins on the floor or holding meetings to speak with the person privately. See if the issue has been resolved or if they still need help finding a better solution. Again, offer your personal help, if possible, or offer another resource the team member or team leader can try, such as human resources.

Common methods used to follow up:

·         Individual meetings

·         Observation on the floor or office

·         Phone calls

·         Stop by the team member’s desk to check in

Influencing Skills for Team Leaders

Influencing Skills for Team Leaders

The best team leaders are able to influence their team to do something and think it was all their idea. Don’t worry about taking credit for every good thing that happens on your watch. As the leader, you get credit whenever your team succeeds because you created the environment that allowed their success.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

The Art of Persuasion

Aristotle was a master of the art persuasion, and he outlines his thinking in his work, Rhetoric, where he identifies three important factors: ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos (credibility) persuades people using character. If you are respectful and honest, people will be more likely to follow you because of your character. Your character convinces the follower that you are someone who is worth listening to for advice.
  • Pathos (emotional) persuade people by appealing to their emotions. For example, when a politician wants to gain support for the bill, it inevitably is argued, “it’s for the children!” Babies, puppies, and kitties abound in advertising for a reason. Although a car is neither male nor female, they are sometimes called “sexy” in car commercials. Pathos allow you to tie into emotional triggers that will capture a person’s attention and enlist their support, but it can be easily abused, leading to a loss of Ethos, as described above.
  • Logos (logical) persuades people by means persuading by appealing to their intellect. This was Aristotle’s favorite and his forte’, but not everyone reacts on a rational level.

Of the three, Ethos must always come first. Ideally, you want to appeal to Pathos, back your arguments up with Logos, and never lose Ethos. President Bill Clinton appealed to people using Pathos, saying often, “I feel your pain,” but there were serious questions raised about his Ethos, and he often did not back up his appeals with Logos.

The Principles of Influence

Robert B. Cialdini, Ph. D. once said, “It is through the influence process that we generate and manage change.” In his studies, he outlined five universal principles of influence, which are useful and effective in a wide range of circumstances.

Reciprocation: People are more willing to do something for you if you have already done something for them first. Married couples do this all the time, giving in on the little things so they can ask for that big night out or a chance to watch the game later.

Commitment: You cannot get people to commit to you or your vision if they don’t see your commitment. Once you provide a solid, consistent example, they will feel they have to do the same.

Authority: If people believe you know what you are talking about and accept your expertise, they are far more likely to follow you. Despite the rebel cry, “Question Authority,” when people need help with something, they will seek out an authority figure. If you place a man in a tie next to a man in jeans and a ratty T-shirt, people will invariably ask the man in the tie for advice on a technical subject first simply because he looks like an authority.

Social Validation: As independent as we like to consider ourselves, we love to be part of a crowd. It will always be a part of us, that school age desire to be accepted, no matter how many times our parents tell us, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you join them?” People will always jump on a bandwagon if their friends like the band.

Friendship: People listen to their friends. If they know you and like you, they are far more likely to support you. A pleasant personality can make up for a multitude of failures. More than one leader has been abandoned at the first sign of trouble because they were not very well liked.

Creating an Impact

As mentioned before, communication is accomplished with more than just words. The more of the leadership skills you develop, the more you will make an impact. In addition, the bigger the impact, the greater the positive change you can create.

Impact is created by a number of intangible factors:

  • A confident bearing, tempered by a kindly manner
  • A strong sense of justice, tempered by mercy
  • A strong intellect, tempered by the willingness to learn
  • A strong sense of emotion, tempered by self-control
  • A strong ability to communicate, tempered by the ability to listen
  • A strong insistence on following the rules, tempered by flexibility
  • A strong commitment to innovation, tempered by situational reality
  • A strong commitment to your followers, tempered by the ability to lead

Above all: maintain a strong personal commitment to your vision.

Build a Stronger Team Using Empathy

Build a Stronger Team Using Empathy

Empathy is one of our greatest interpersonal skills because it allows us to have better communication with our team members and increases our understanding of others. We know empathy can simply mean to ‘put ourselves in the other person’s shoes’, but it can also mean to take an active role in getting to know your team members and treating them with the respect they deserve.

Listening and Paying Attention to Your Team

We all know that there is a difference between hearing and listening, but yet we still seem to confuse the two when we communicate with our team. Listening is considered a skill, so like any other skill, it must be implemented and strengthened. Listening allows for you to understand what the team member is talking about and register what they are trying to communicate. Building better listening skills starts with learning to pay attention when team members speak and actively listening to what they are saying. Key tips to help accomplish this are to give your attention to the team member by facing them and making eye contact. Turn off any cell phones or pagers or remove any item from the area that can distract you and make you lose focus. You’ll find that you will catch more of what the person is saying and be able to retain more. Paying attention and building better listening skills can show support for the other person and build rapport with them.

Tips for better listening skills:

  • Remove any distractions
  • Make eye contact with the person speaking
  • Nod your head periodically
  • Ask for follow up details or information
  • Ask the person to repeat anything you may have missed

Don’t Judge Other Team Members

No matter how many times we hear the old phrase “Don’t judge people” or “It’s not our place to judge”, we more than likely find ourselves doing it anyway – we just don’t want to admit it. Whether subconsciously or not, we still find ourselves judging those around us, whether it is based on their clothes, job title, the way the talk or walk, gender, hair color, skin color, and etc. When another team member is speaking or completes a task, what do you think in your head? Do you automatically make comments on how their assignment was too easy or that the way they speak is subpar to the team. Of course you would never say this out loud or tell them directly, but in your mind you have already made up your mind about them.

Thoughts like this cause us to judge people more and more, which can create barriers between people and lose connections and chances to network over time. Every person has an “inside person” and an “outside person” – we see the outside person every day and try to form our own opinions without seeing everything first. Don’t forget that there is an “inside person” as well that has an entirely different side.

Shift Your View

Empathy is simply defined as putting yourself in another person’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view. When communicating with another team member, think about how it would feel to be in their shoes and do the things they have to do. How would you feel if you have to complete their assignment in the weekly meeting or if you have to conduct a speech in front of hundreds of people?

Shifting your view does not mean that you have to entirely give up your opinions and what you think. It involves taking a few minutes to stop and reflect on the actions and words of the other person and picturing yourself in their situation. Think about what it would be like to stand in their shoes in the conference room or in front of the new manager. By doing this, we can better understand why they may act or speak a certain way and what can drive them to do what they do. By showing empathy, you are able to connect with this team member and create an important relationship to have in the workplace.

Don’t Show Fake Emotions to Your Team

In social situations it is never a good idea to fake our emotions or how we feel toward others. Of course, this does not mean we have full permission to start tearing into people and ripping them to shreds if we didn’t like their recent speech. But if you are not entirely happy about something in the team or feel anxious about something else, it is not a good idea to fake a smile or laugh just to appear happy.

This ‘fakeness’ will more than likely be detected, which can offend others around you or even make them feel insecure. Instead, be honest about how you feel and show honest concern for your fellow team mates. Be tactful if delivering negative feedback and offers helpful tips for improvement or changes. Although they may not accept your true feelings at first, and may even seem angry about it, in the end they will appreciate the fact that you were honest with them and didn’t show a mask of fake emotions with them.

The Right Tools to Help Your Virtual Team Succeed

The Right Tools to Help Your Virtual Team Succeed

The Success of any kind of team depends on the tools you use to make it work. After all, you can’t build a house without a hammer and you can’t change a tire without a jack. But having a lot of tools at your disposal does not necessarily mean you have the right ones to get the job done. The key is in knowing what you want to do and what kind of tool would help you do it.

Communication Software

On a virtual team, communication software is crucial to have and use well. Team members are far apart and cannot communicate in person with each other when they have questions. How do your team members want or need to communicate with each other? For quick and easy questions or comments, text messaging or an instant message program can be the key. But if an employee needs to ask lengthy questions to a coworker or manager, a phone call or tagged email may be the answer instead. Whichever way the team chooses to communicate with each other, it is just as important to know how to use and work the software, so be sure to ensure every team member has proper training and can come to you with questions.

Examples of communication software:

  • Telephones – landlines, cellular or VOIP
  • Email systems (AOL, Yahoo!, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook)
  • Instant messaging programs (AOL IM, GroupWise Messenger, MSN messenger)
  • Video chat room (Skype, ooVoo, Google Voice)

Collaboration and Sharing Tools

Collaboration and sharing tools allow team members across a virtual team to not only share a project they are working on, but also to work with each other by editing and commenting on projects within the same program. It can be a hassle to try and email a project back and forth when one person is trying to suggest a change or add their notes. There are a number of software programs that can be added to the virtual team to help make the collaboration process go more smoothly among team members. Many of these tools allow employees to upload a file for several others to see at once. Others include comment or adjustment features and can save any progress made after each person touches the file. These types of tools can make a virtual team run better and allows them to work as a team rather than several individuals trying to reach the same goal.

Examples of collaboration and sharing tools:

  • Adobe Acrobat
  • JotSpot
  • Microsoft Office
  • Novell GroupWise email
  • Basecamp

Project Management Software

Project management software is aimed at managing the different aspects of a project, such as budgets, productivity, scheduling, communication, and even employee evaluations. There are many different ways of keeping track of this information, and companies normally take a different approach depending on the situation. Virtual teams generally have some sort of web based management program, such as a web application for clocking in and out or keeping track of employee absences.

Other software options can include a program installed on the employee’s desktop that can monitor their progress over a period of time and can show the employee what kind of progress they are making. Although we don’t want to feel as though we are micromanaging our employees, it is necessary to implement some form of project management software for the team to use. While some may not like the approach to managing their projects, they will feel relieved when the time comes that they will need your feedback and guidance.

Use What Works for You and Your Team

Every team leader has an opinion about what methods work and which ones do not for a virtual team. But only you can decide what works for you and your team. You know your employees and you know what would be the best way to communicate with them when you need to. Sometimes this can take some trial and error to see what forms of communication work best for the team as a whole. Some may communicate better by email while others are more comfortable talking on the phone. Many employees communicate using a number of different methods, depending on what kind of response they will need. The best part about having so many tools at your disposal is that you can use a combination of them to achieve what you and your team need to do.

Use the method, or methods, that get(s) what you need:

Email/text messaging/phone calls – short answers and quick information delivery, such as a meeting change or a quick clarification question.

Group meetings/individual meetings/video chats – in-depth and lengthy information given; usually requires explanations or discussions from both sides. This includes discussion of employee progress, business reports, or company changes.

Tips on Dealing With Poor Team Players

Dealing with poor team players

When we manage a team, there will always be a time where we have to address a member, or members, that are not working well with the group. No one wants to be the bad guy, but if the employee is not confronted and not given the chance to improve, it can affect the other members of the team and could cause a ‘domino effect’ for productivity. Learn the techniques of approaching this delicate situation and look out for your team as a whole – not just one member.

Manage Their Results, Not Their Activities

It  is more important to monitor the employee’s results, rather than the individual activities. If the employee is delivering great work and it’s on time, then the process of how they finish it means very little.

For many team members, having this sense of freedom and trust can boost their confidence and improve productivity. However, if a team member is not completing work on time or is not turning in projects, then this is an indication of poor work habits and the team leader should investigate into what is causing the problem. Approach the employee and talk to them about their routine schedule. If needed, organize some form of an improvement plan to help them adjust their ways of completing their assignments.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

It is better to be prepared for any mishap before it happens, which is why it is important to be proactive rather than reactive. If we wait for something to go wrong before we act on it, we cannot think clearly about what to do and it may be too late to fix. The same theory goes for team members. Do not sit back and wait for them to make a mistake before they are taught how to do something correctly. Monitor each employee’s progress and notice any minor problems they may have along the way. Speak to the team member early on when they problem starts and try to find a way to guide them on the right path. This will prevent the problem from getting worse and having to use more damage control later. Being proactive will always keep you one step ahead and ready to help the employee succeed.

Check In Often

On the same lines of being proactive, be sure to check in with your team members often. They may not always have the chance to contact you or may not want to admit they need help. Schedule some form of regular communication for informal check in times that best work for you and the employee. Check in can be done by a phone call or simply sending an email. This will help both of you stay on track and allows you to report any feedback that needs to be addressed. Think of it as keeping a close eye on your flock and ensuring that you are there for them if they happen to go astray.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Example forms of check in methods:

  • Email
  • Phone call
  • Recurring group meeting
  • Video chat

Remove Them

Sometimes after a team leader has tried several attempts to help a team member work well on a team, they come to realize that the particular employee is just not a great fit and will need to be removed. Some employees can be too disruptive to their teammates or are not able to work independently. This can cause problems for the whole team and should be addressed right away. Before you decide to remove the employee, make sure your ducks are in a row and that you have done all you can to help them succeed, such as personal help or extra training. If you have followed all of the correct guidelines and the employee does not show any type of improvement, then you can take the next steps in removing the employee from the team. Some employees may be reassigned to another department in the company while others may need to be fired altogether. Review all of their available options and determine which would be best for the company and the team.

How to Succeed With a Virtual Team

How to Succeed with Virtual Teams

Succeeding with traditional face-to-face teams can be challenging enough, but succeeding with a virtual team can be just as hard, if not more so. Inspiring a team to create and meet goals, maintain motivation and work together are only a few obstacles when managing a team that you cannot see on a daily basis. But with effective communication and a little discipline, any virtual team can succeed.

Setting Clear Goals

Setting goals are one of the most elementary processes that can lead to success. After all, you don’t know where you’re going until you determine what you want! Clear goals are normally set for the team as a whole as well as each individual teammate. The manager works with the team to determine what they want to achieve over a set amount of time (i.e. increased sales, decreased absences) while the employee sets their own goals about what they want to achieve as a member of the team (i.e. decreased data errors, increased personal productivity). Setting goals with your virtual team can help them stay task-focused and can make them feel as though they are making a difference on the team.

Tips for setting goals:

  • Determine what you want to achieve
  • Define a path that can help you get there (there may be more than one)
  • Decide what you will do when you reach that goal

Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

A Standard Operating System is generally a company’s process or procedure that it follows in the workplace. Sometimes a company does not feel the need to document these procedures, since many people may already know it. But creating these procedures and correctly documenting them allows the manager to share them with other employees and create them as a type of guideline and resource. As a manager, review some of the procedure and processes that have worked for you in the past and try to create them into an SOP. Although it can be time consuming, it will be worth the benefits in the end. On a virtual team, these can be especially helpful for employees who may not have experience on the team yet.  They will come to you for help and will need to learn procedures if they are to contribute to the team.

Build a Team Culture

Your virtual team is your family. Every member should take the time to know each other and familiarize themselves with someone else’s situation. After all, every member of the team is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect and friendliness. If employees are not able to socialize locally, allow them to have a chat room on a private server or virtual community they can come and go in to speak with other employees on a non-business level. If possible, assign projects or assignments in pairs or small groups to encourage further mingling and socializing. When the employees feel as though they are part of a family, they see other teammates as family also and will create their own team culture they can fit into.

Related: Dealing with Culutural Differences in YourTeam

Provide Timely Feedback

Positive or negative, feedback is a great tool to help employees at work. On a virtual team, giving timely feedback is important to the team’s overall success. Employees need to know how they are doing on assignments and need to know if they need to change anything. Since the manager cannot randomly approach the employee to give feedback as they would in person, it is best to set up regular, scheduled sessions (such as by phone or chat) to alert the employee of any negative feedback that needs to be addressed or any positive feedback that should be shared. This will require the manager to get to know the employee personally so that the feedback sessions are not awkward or uncomfortable.

How to Deal With Cultural Differences in Your Team

How to deal with cultural differences in your team

Cultural issues in the workplace have been a hot topic for many years. They are more than just demographics and cannot always be detected right away. Even though team members may be from the same office or a similar location, each one has their own unique culture and following. It is important to embrace these differences and acknowledge the cultural issues that may be present. This can help the team build successful relationships with each other and prove more productive in the long run.

Respect and Embrace Differences

Diversity among a group is always a good thing, but under the wrong impressions it can ruin any team. Whether the difference is a type of culture, political opinions, or simply a difference in background, all these factors can change how a person interacts with another person and what kind of view they have.  When team members are diverse, it can keep the team from thinking on one path and stop the ‘one track mind’. It opens teammates up to new ideas and points of view, which in turn can create new concepts for projects and assignments. Together, they can learn to not only respect their differences among each other, but embrace them to create a whole new work style.

Be Aware of Different Work Styles

Sometimes different work styles on a team can be a good thing because they allow each employee to think on their own and work within a design that works best for them. Other times, it can be a real source of trouble if not properly addressed. Some employees may prefer to work alone even though they are needed on a team project. One employee may be a procrastinator and wait until the last minute to complete their assignment. The key is to learn to be flexible with one another and adjust how you approach each other. No two people work the same way, so any team, especially a virtual one, will need time to adjust to one another and learn what makes the other team member work so hard. When we know how they function, we can work in sync with them without a hitch…most of the time!

Know Your Team Members Cultural Background

On a virtual team, it can be hard to get to know your teammates personally since you are so limited in communication and socialization. Even if the members meet during some sort of meeting or conference, it can be hard to acknowledge a person’s cultural background. Some companies have an employee fill out a personal profile that can be shared with other employees, which allows them to better know the person even though they are not in the same office. When we can better understand a person’s cultural background, we can better understand why they do some of the things they do and can make them feel more comfortable on your team.

Examples:

Provide an “All About Me” survey to gather information about employees

Some information can remain private if desired, such as religion or political views

Acknowledge cultural instances, such as holidays and rituals

Dealing with Stereotypes

Stereotypes can ruin any team relationship or bond. The sweeping generalization a stereotype can cause people to become confused or view people in a negative light, even if it was unprovoked. Knowledge and understanding are the only tools we can use to deal with stereotypes. Get to know your employees and encourage them to get to know their coworkers. Learn more about the employee as a whole person instead of what their cultural background may have been labeled as. Through observation and interaction, the chances of anyone creating or following stereotypes in the virtual team decreases and employees are able to focus on the task at hand, and not each other.

How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

Creating an open and honest environment in the team is a key factor to keeping team members happy and productive. In a virtual team, it is just as important to remain open with your team members and keep them in the immediate loop of information. Since they are not always in a central location, it is essential to keep them updated on current happenings in the company and in their department. When the team members feel included, they learn to trust you and will look to you when they have questions.

Related: Trust Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Trust Your Team and They Will Trust You

Trust is a key component in any relationship, personal or professional. Virtual teams can have additional problems with trust when they are not always in each other’s company. They can be unsure about what is being said or if they are doing as well as they should. As a team leader, it is important to show your trust in your team first. Show them that you trust them to complete their work and trust them with crucial information, such as potential job reassignments or even closures. When the team feels as though you trust them, they can, in turn, learn to trust you. They will instill their trust in you and confide in you when they have concerns or are worried. This trust not only builds a stronger relationship among the team members and team leader, but also the entire virtual team.

Beware of “Us vs. Them” Territorial Issues

Often times when management tries to solely run a team without regards to its members, the employees can begin to have that “Us against Them” mentality. They begin to believe that management is only looking out for management or does not value the opinion of the team members. This can cause further resentment from the team and can affect the whole team’s productivity. Remind your team that you are on their side and that you realize that the team works together to accomplish the same goal. Let them know that they are included in many of the decisions made (although not ALL of them), and that their presence on the team is valued. When a team member feels as though they are part of the working machine, they are less likely to feel like an opposing force.

Share Best Practices

A form of ‘best practice’ is loosely defined as a practice that has proved productive in the past and has results behind it to back it up. Sharing best practices with your virtual team can be a great move when faced with some of the same situations. Common forms of sharing these practices include sending them through email or forming some kind of instruction sheet. Some team members may need to be counseled in person or shown how to follow a process step by step. Sharing these practices shows trust among the team and trust that they can continue the chain of success.

Best practices:

  • Processes/procedures that have worked before
  • Can be shared a number of ways, including email, videos or personal instruction
  • Consult with the team regarding alterations/variations if needed

Follow up with the team to ensure comprehension.

Effective Communication in Virtual Teams

Effective Communication in Virtual Teams

Effective communication is a key component to any successful team. It is especially important when managing a virtual team because not only do you deal with traditional communication problems with the team members, but virtual teams can face more obstacles trying to keep in touch. Learning helpful tools and techniques for effective communication can take any virtual team a long way.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Poor communication among team members and team leaders has been shown to cause low team morale and a decrease in productivity. Sometimes team members can feel unsure about approaching you or are not sure what to do when they have a problem. Encourage your team to engage in two way communication and ask questions when they receive new information. When they know who they can come to in a jam, they will feel more comfortable communicating their needs.

Communicate Early and Often

Early communication means not waiting for a problem to happen before addressing it. Check in with your team on a regular basis, whether by phone, email, conference, etc. Don’t let a team member struggle through a problem over a long period of time. Don’t wait for them to contact you; reach out to them to offer help. Contact each team member often and follow up after any problems they have reported. Keeping in touch with each team member not only cuts down on large problems, but it shows your support in the team and can boost their morale substantially.

Tips:

  • Create a regular schedule to check in with team members
  • Find what methods work best for each team member
  • Keep track of small problems that arise early to prevent bigger ones later

Rules of Responsiveness

Communication is a two way street and can shut down when one side doesn’t contribute or doesn’t act on their responsibility. When outlining communication techniques with your virtual team, one aspect to cover is the rules of responsiveness. Determine which forms of response are appropriate in various situations. Do you need a response right away? Is it something they can reply to later? Will you need a short or long response? When sending a communication to the team, let them know how soon they need to reply and how soon you expect to hear from them. The team needs to understand that the communication you exchange with them is very important and that they need to respond in a timely manner.

Communicate Face to Face When Possible

Sometimes communication needs to be made in person or face to face. Communication over the phone or email can often be skewed because there is a loss of tone and body language. Although this can be hard with a virtual team, there are ways the team leader and team members can work together. If distance is somewhat small, arrange a time for the team member to meet either at your office or theirs. If the distance is too great, the next best option is to use some sort of video message system, such as Skype. Although it does not replace in person meetings, it allows the team leader and team members to talk ‘face to face’ and monitor their tone and body language signals. Sometimes long distance communication just can’t deliver an effective message – so never underestimate the power of talking in person.

Choose the Best Tool

Every form of communication has an appropriate tool to use with it. Some information can be delivered by informal methods, such as email or telephone calls. Informal methods are great to use when a short or quick answer is needed rather than a longer response. Participants can share information quickly and then continue with their work. Other messages should be delivered more formal, such as face to face talks or even in a group meeting.

Formal methods are better used for in-depth messages and descriptions. The information is often lengthy and may require explanation or presentations. Formal methods also allow participants to ask questions or add their input. To choose the best tool, the team leader should determine how urgent the message is, how quickly it needs to be received, and what kind of response they are looking for. Once they determine what is to be shared and what they need in response, they can then choose the best tool for the job.

Be Honest and Clear

One of the pitfalls about team communication is that we try to hide information from each other. Tea leaders will try to ‘sugar coat’ a problem within the team or team members won’t mention how hard they are struggling with an assignment. When speaking with your team, don’t try to hide facts behind blurred words. If you have to deliver bad news, be upfront and let them know what is going on. If you need to change something they are doing or working on, be clear as to why and the effect it will have on them. When we try to hide facts or information, team members can become skeptical and will eventually lose their trust in you.

Tips:

  • Remain honest, even if it is a negative aspect.
  • Speak clearly and don’t hide the fact behind ‘sugar coated’ words.
  • Ensure the team is clear about what they hear (Any questions?)

Stay in Constant Contact

Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to reach a team leader that has fallen out of touch. Team members need to be able to reach you during regular business hours and should always have a source to contact outside those hours (i.e. on-call, second shift manager). It is especially hard for virtual team members since they cannot always physically contact you and will need some other way to speak to you when needed.

It is important for you to stay in constant contact with your team members and ensure them that you are there for them when they need you. Some examples include sending daily emails to check on progress, or making regular meetings to follow up with the team. Make a note of team members that need your assistance more often and be sure to check up on how they are doing over time. By staying in contact now, you are helping to prevent further problems later.

Don’t Make Assumptions

We all know that old saying of what happens when we assume. A common problem in communication is assuming that we have delivered all of the information needed or assuming that the team will not have any trouble with their work. These assumptions can cause us to leave our team members out to dry and cause them to feel as though you are not there to help them. The team can begin to resent you and may feel too uncomfortable to ask for further information.

Ask for the team to follow up on any information they receive, especially if they have questions or concerns. Periodically check on each team member’s productivity and ask if they are having any difficulties or need another problem addressed. Your team members can benefit from your guidance, so don’t assume they will make it on their own without you.

How to Run Successful Virtual Team Meetings

How to run a virtual team

Just because your team is not at a table in front of you doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with them and guide them during a project. As with a normal meeting, there will be the issue with setting a good time, ensuring everyone shows up and making sure you deliver all the right information. The key is learning tools that can help you run a successful meeting, in person or virtually!

Scheduling Will Always Be an Issue

Virtual teams have a harder time scheduling meetings because the team members  are not in the same location. Some team members  are in different time zones, others work different hours while the rest may be constantly traveling. One tip for managing the team’s time schedules is to keep a log or chart of a team member’s  location, working hours and where they could be assigned later. With this tool, you can determine prime times to hold virtual meetings that won’t conflict with someone’s schedule.

If different meetings need to be held, plan a schedule with the team regarding a rotation of team members staying late or coming in early to cover meeting times. Many team members are happy to abide by a schedule in which they can give their opinions. Be sure to remind the team of any consequence that can occur for not sticking with the schedule or not participating in the meeting, such as written warnings and disciplinary actions on their record. Understand that some team members may still be hard to schedule even with adjustments. So have an alternate solution handy in case a team member cannot attend group meetings. Be flexible with team members that attend meetings outside of their normal work hours, offer the next day off or maybe a half day.

Have a Clear Objective and Agenda

An agenda is very important to have in any meeting and is more so in a virtual meeting because it keeps everyone on the same track. Outline what you want to discuss and accomplish from the meeting and jot down ideas on how you can make them happen. Include specific topics that need to be reviewed and events that have happened with the team. The team needs to know there is a clear objective of the meeting and that it is not a waste of their production time. Share your agenda with the rest of the team so they can be aware of the purpose of the meeting and what they can contribute.

Tips for sharing your agenda:

  • Include it in a mass email so the team members can read it ahead of time.
  • On video calls, have the agenda displayed at all times on the screen.
  • For conference call meetings, read over the agenda first and allow the team members to take notes.

Solicit Additional Topics in Advance

Soliciting ideas before the actual meeting is an important tool to use when creating your agenda for the meeting. Speak with your team and ask if they have any additional topics they would like included in the meeting agenda. Sometimes after the team members are aware of the original agenda, ideas or topics are added to the plate, either by management or other team members. However, don’t leave these new topics as a surprise for the other meeting attendees.

It is important to share these additional topics with the team before they ‘arrive’ at the meeting so that they can be prepared and don’t feel as though they were blindsided. When the team knows of the meeting topics ahead of time, they are able to research the topic ahead of time and be able to make a meaningful contribution when they participate in the next meeting.

Discourage Just Being a Status Report

Status report type information can be sent through email or other electronic messages because it often does not include much of a response from the team. It is generally one-sided information that is meant to be informative, not discussed in depth. One of the problems of a virtual meeting is that the moderator will do most of the talking and presenting, leaving the other team members feeling as though they are only there to hear the latest status report. The same can go for team members that come to the meeting to share their information and then sit out for the rest of the time. Encourage team members to ask questions and take notes on the information given. Set aside time for team members to share ideas with one another and engage in conversation or debate about the meeting topics. These meetings are meant to be a time of learning and interaction, not just one-sided information sharing.