4 steps to help you lead a virtual team

Virtual teams have become the norm for many companies today.  According to an Inc.com article, 31% of the people globally work in remote teams.  These people are often lead by someone positioned physically in one country, but having to deal with members of the team in several other countries.  Sometimes teams are organized by regions and in some of the cases, they are global structures, including people from different regions, continents, and parts of the world.

The role of the leader, managing such a global team is often very different than the role of the local,  direct leading leader.

I have a very close friend who is leading an international team on 3 different continents.  When he took the job, he was so excited about this opportunity.  He read 2 books about international leadership presence,  attended a course on how to lead an international team,  asked several colleagues, leading regional teams, etc.  Everything was going well in the first month.  The new team liked him very much, he felt comfortable in his new role. All the conversations between team members went like scheduled…  At the end of the first month, he gave the team members some tasks and started working on his tasks.  They scheduled weekly meetings to discuss progress and some questions and obstacles that may arise.  As he told me after that-  the first meeting has been a disaster- he was asking questions on progress, but almost everyone from the team members responded negatively, there were no results and people looked like they have misunderstood their tasks or forget the level of priority they have had to achieve team goals as scheduled.  The same thing has shown up on the second and third meetings.  My friend, as per his words,  tried everything to  “motivate” the team members for the next  3 meetings, but with no success.  The team has failed meeting the goals set and was delaying other teams’ work in several different places.  The group leader came with harsh feedback to my friend talking about layoffs and replacements.  My friend was desired and needed help.  After going through the story and analyzing details,  together we structured 4 steps to help him lead better the team. Here they  are:

Learn about different countries cultures

You have people from different nations working for the same company. The company has internal rules and values.  You think everything is fine because the value champions at your company have done their job by educating all employees what the values mean and how they compare to the company culture.  Well, this isn’t true.  I know you are disappointed, but it is true.  Large international companies have to adapt their values according to the country’s specifics.  Some nations work straight to the point,  others like having long introduction parts before they start the job, the third part of the people need more and different breaks because of the nation’s temperament, etc. There is nothing that can change country cultures.  Some people may try to adapt to the company specifics, but still, they are expressing the country specifics.  That is why you must focus on learning as much as you can about the country and let the company on a second plan.

Compare performance to the country  specifics

Companies need to understand that people often compare themselves to others-surrounding them.  So you will need to look at how performance looks in the eyes of the people in the same country.  What may look like a standard or low performer in one country may be seen as high performance in another.  Making this analysis for yourself will help you with better structuring the goals and tasks for the people in your virtual team.

Be there when they need you, but not present at any  moment

Your virtual team members are self-dependent. They may need your support as an enabler or supporter in some moments, but they don’t see you every day,  don’t talk too much with you about their families,  friends, interests, etc.  You don’t see their facial expression when they struggle,  are happy, etc. DO not take them their personal space.  Let them have the freedom work the way they think and feel it’s right, but take time to ask,  them about help, support them when they need it,  be there for them when they partner with others in the company,  provide honest feedback collected from the in-country stakeholders and partners, etc.  That will build trust and respect in your team members toward you and your position and will make them more open, productive and ready to take risks,  without waiting for permission or reminders. 

Work  for internal positive team member positioning

One thing that many people face while working is the wrong performance review.  But their performance review comes after poorly set goals. As a virtual team leader, you will need to focus on recognizing and using people’s strengths.  It is your job to structure and spread the team goals so that everyone on the team can show its strengths and put them into fulfilling the team goals. While doing your team performance assessment,  you will need to include also the factor country culture.  The fast-paced companies often fail in this,  while the team leaders believe that people work trough or against implemented company standards.  But what many of them miss is that performance also depends on the country and national understandings on how a job must be done. Missing that element while setting goals can only lead the team to failure.  Knowing specifics of each country’s culture can help you be more precise when setting goals.  The precision will also lead to involving all the team members with their strengths into goal achievement. As a result, you will not only achieve team goals but can rely on people and recognize their strengths in achieving these goals in front of the other team members. And doing that effort will also work for internal team engagement,  trust, and motivation.


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