Remote Work Teams Are Changing Leadership Dynamics

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May 20, 2019
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The way we form project teams is changing. Technology allows workers to more easily execute remote work, and search engines and social networks make finding partner resources easy.

Beyond the core project team, organizations often form dispersed teams when resources are brought together to deliver projects. For example, a project may also involve an off-shore data center, temporary workers, an expert product engineer and a distribution team.

The combinations of resources needed for any given project are growing. With so many dynamics in team culture, organizations need to be intentional about team leadership and engagement to improve project outcomes. Transitions need to be in place as the team changes so the project stays on track.

What is a Dispersed Team

Where people work is the main influencer of a dispersed team. The more spread out teams are, the more remote work, the more attention needs to be made to manage team communication and shared resources.

4 Signs Your Organization Has a Dispersed Team

  1. Team members don’t usually work together in the same location.
  2. The business has multiple locations, nationally or internationally (off-shoring or near-shoring).
  3. Team members work in multiple office locations.
  4. Some or all team members work from a home office.

Why Organizations Launch Distributed Work Programs / Dispersed Teams

As a response to work cultures becoming more dynamic, organizations develop processes and programs to manage distributed or dispersed teams. These programs and processes allow the business to be more agile and limit risks.

6 Common Business Motivations For Distributed Work Programs

FarWell helps organizations launch remote work (Dispersed) Teams and Programs. Here’s why organizations we work with are identifying a need for Dispersed Team Program development from most to least common:

  1. Attract new talent
  2. Retain existing talent
  3. Reduce the cost or expense by reducing the number of resources or team members
  4. Improve customer satisfaction
  5. Improve business continuity and resiliency
  6. Mitigate employee risk

leadership for remote work teams

Best Practices to Lead Dispersed Teams

We find the most successful Dispersed Team leaders develop core leadership characteristics, prepare for dynamics unique to dispersed teams, and establish trusting cultures.

Know Yourself as a Leader

Leaders who excel at leading virtual teams have these characteristics in common: authenticity, flexibility, and curiosity. These personal traits drive their teams to success.

Leadership Characteristics Needed for Successful Dispersed Teams

Authenticity

Dispersed team leaders do what they say they will do. They are consistent in their leadership communication behaviors like providing direction, giving feedback, and following up.

Flexibility

Dispersed team leaders can respond quickly in a changing, unpredictable environment.

Curiosity

Dispersed team leaders are open to new challenges.

Leadership Actions Needed for Successful Dispersed Teams

Showing Up

Dispersed team leaders are willing to be available to remote work team members.

Stepping Back

Dispersed team leaders trust others to lead and do what they say they will do.

Sorting Out

Dispersed team leaders prioritize and organize plans.

Leadership skills Needed for Successful Dispersed Teams

Communicator

Dispersed team leaders communicate clearly across various mediums (writing, collaboration tools, conference calls, face to face, etc.).

Governor

Dispersed team leaders set clear priorities for their remote work team and hold them accountable. Learn How to Monitor Performance Throughout a Project’s Lifecycle with Project Governance.

Educator

Dispersed team leaders coach and influence others.

Leader Challenge

Rate yourself on the characteristics listed above. What areas need improvement?

dispersed team dynamic how to prepare leadership for remote work teams

Prepare for Dispersed Team Dynamics

Leaders of dispersed teams face the following challenges:

  1. Keeping remote work team members from becoming isolated and detached
  2. Measuring virtual employee productivity without regard to physical presence
  3. Keeping employees in the loop and the lines of communication open
  4. Coordinating meetings across various time zones
  5. Understanding and managing cultural and language differences
  6. Encouraging teamwork and interaction among remote work team members
  7. Handling conflict among dispersed team-members or addressing under-performance
  8. Finding ways to recognize and reward remote workers for their contributions to keep them engaged
  9. Tracking geopolitical factors – disasters, political & financial unrest
  10. If team members are employees, allowing the lack of face time to influence professional advancement opportunities

These tools assist leaders as they address these common dispersed team challenges.

How to Build a Remote Work Community

A successful dispersed team leader must provide opportunities for the remote work team to connect within the organization and interact as if they would be co-located.

How to Build a Sense of Belonging in Dispersed Teams

Establish Routines

Co-facilitate the “Remote Logistics” meetings for your team.

Ensure Connectivity

Assign a buddy for each remote work team member.

Maintain Social Benefits of Co-location

Schedule social events.

Understand Cultural Differences

Conduct your own research and provide team members with opportunities to share cultural norms.

Build Relationships

Offer opportunities for other interactions. Share where team members could find information about what is happening outside the project team.

Provide Capability

Ensure the remote work team has been trained in the use of web conferencing tools.

how to create collaborative remote work environments dispersed teams

How to Create a Collaborative Environment

When working in a dispersed team, establishing and maintaining communication is critical. Leaders need to ensure virtual employees are “in the loop” and feel part of the remote work team.

6 Best Practices for Effective Communication

  1. Accommodate communication preferences when possible.
  2. Don’t forget to communicate informally as well.
  3. Choose the right medium for the message.
  4. Think critically about how your message may be understood.
  5. Be sensitive to language barriers and cultural norms related to communication.
  6. Remember that communication goes both ways.

6 Action Items for Effective Communication & Engagement

  1. Schedule regular 1:1 meetings.
  2. Schedule weekly team meetings.
  3. Review and implement other engagement opportunities.
  4. Identify a vehicle for your remote work team to stay connected outside of meetings you coordinate.
  5. Ensure employees are on distribution lists of the nearest office so they can stay connected or attend special events.
  6. Attempt to make meetings interactive.

Leader Review

In what countries have your team members worked from? Are you team members from another country? What have you learned about those cultures and languages?

How to Lead Your Dispersed Team

When leaders do not interact with remote work team members on a daily basis, they can sometimes go in the wrong direction. Set the groundwork for success with the following practices.

8 Best Practices for Establishing Remote Work Expectations

  1. Share vision / goals for the remote work team.
  2. Establish SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Time-bound) performance objectives for each team member.
  3. Share communication expectations.
  4. Set clear policies and guidelines.
  5. Create guidelines for issue resolution.
  6. Establish productivity ground rules.
  7. Set-up a check-in policy.
  8. Ask about team member’s own expectations.

 

3 Action Items for Setting Expectations with Each Remote Work Team Member

  1. Establish objectives regularly and track their progress.
  2. Measure productivity by meeting deadlines and assessing quality of work.
  3. Discuss conflicts directly with the team member.

Leader Caution

Though focus should be primarily on outcomes, be careful not to miss other important clues to engagement. See video example.

how to create an engaged high performing remote work team with leadership

Developing into an Engaged, High-Performing Dispersed Team

By knowing yourself and preparing for virtual team dynamics, leaders will build trust, improve the engagement of virtual team members, and maximize their potential to develop into a high performing team, regardless of location.

Evidence of High-performing Remote Work Teams

  • Clear and well-defined goals and priorities
  • Clear understanding of roles and duties
  • Trust and competence
  • Willingness to let team goals override individual goals
  • Achievement of stretch goals
  • Cooperation, not competition
  • Deal with conflict effectively
  • Listen to varying points of view
  • Open and frequent communication

Evidence of Low-performing Remote Work Teams

  • Cliques or subgroups that do not get along
  • Unequal distribution of resources
  • Uneven participation levels
  • Processes that are rigid or otherwise dysfunctional
  • A lack of creative problem solving
  • Low levels of communication or miscommunication
  • A tendency to avoid conflict
  • A domineering personality
  • Goals not consistently achieved

Schedule a RightFit™ Discovery Meeting

Connect with a FarWell advisor to talk through your team dynamics. We offer clients no-obligation RightFit™ Discovery Meetings where you can bounce your needs and ideas off of an expert advisor.

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