After writing this post, I realised what a great opportunity we have when working in virtual teams of increasing the quality of our communication. Is there anything I have missed out? Could most of this be applied to co-located teams?
This post is divided into two parts.
Poor results can lead to low morale, which in a virtual team can easily lead to a breakdown in communication and a feeling that people are “disappearing”. In the virtual workplace, the negative effect of poor results can’t be mitigated by warm smiles of encouragement and the smell of shared coffee in the office.
In this blog post and its follow-up I’ll share a few things that you need to consider when you’re evaluating and modifying your current processes.
(If monitoring and tracking progress is something you’re addressing right now, why not check out the 21st Century Work Life episode on Tracking Results.)
In co-located teams, we often share information about how we’re getting on and what we’re working on in an informal way, sometimes without being conscious of it.
In virtual teams, however, we need to be deliberate about sharing information. We need to have processes for sharing our results and progress - and these need to be visible to everyone.
Regular check-ins with each team member about current work are part of the practice of the best team leaders. In Reinventing Performance Management, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall share their findings and experience at Deloitte, where the performance management systems are being completely redesigned. The authors of this April 2015 HBR article, found a "direct and measurable correlation between the frequency of these regular check-ins and the engagement of team members".
During these conversations, team leaders “set expectations for the upcoming week, review priorites, comment on recent work and provide course correction, coaching or important new information”. Conversations might take place regularly between manager and team member, but there is no reason why they can’t happen between team members too.
In flatter organisations where we’re encouraging everyone to take responsibility for the success of their team, giving and receiving feedback, however casually, should be part of our practice. (For more thoughts on giving feedback in teams, check out our podcast on Giving Feedback.)
If you don’t currently have tracking systems in place (either because you’ve managed to coast along or your team is new), think about what you’re already doing to stay up to date with everyone else and what kind of systems or processes might be useful to you and your team members.
For example, in those teams whose members are fully employed, you might already be having regular check-ins, or be used to communicating informally daily. In this case, you might need less detailed ways of tracking your work as you’re sharing information in other ways. On the other hand, those teams made up of freelancers or people working as part of more than one team might need to set up systems where anyone can easily monitor how they and the rest of the team are doing at any time.
The first thing to consider when you set up a tracking system or a monitoring process is to think about who is going to need it, who should have access to it and who can modify it. In a traditional, hierarchical organisation, we might expect the manager to do everything – set up the system, check it and act upon it. But everyone in your team should be able to check the team’s progress.
Answering “How is everyone doing?” will help with the relatedness aspect of motivation, while “Is there anything that might hold me back?” will help to check team member’s own progress.
So, the first consideration when choosing a way of tracking and monitoring results is:
(1) How regularly are your team members working for your team?
For example, if you are working with full-time employees, your answer is “every day”. If you’re working with freelancers, it might be “sporadically” or “Pat works on Mondays, Alex usually works on Tuesday and Thursday mornings”.
(For tips on communicating with freelancers, check out the article How to Manage Inefficient Communication with Freelancers.)
Or, if you’re working in a matrix environment, you might know that Matthew has a deadline in his other team coming up and he’s planning on focusing on that project for the next two weeks. (For how to lead in a matrix environment, check out Mariano Tufró’s podcast on Global Leadership.)
(2) Next, you need to look at is how much ongoing communication is already happening and how it’s taking place.
- Is communication frequent?
- Is it in real-time or asynchronous?
- What tools are you using?
- And the most important question of all: How’s it all working out?
Depending on the level of collaboration and your team needs, you might set different objectives for each type of communication. I’ll explain what I mean with this example. Corbett Barr, Barrett Brooks and Chase Reeves run Fizzle, the “hottest online business training”. In one of their podcasts, they describe how they regularly update each other.
On Mondays they have a team meeting to talk about what they’re going to be working on during the week, on Wednesdays they gather together online again to set the agenda ahead of time and share what they’re stuck on and on Fridays, they check-in again to share what they did during the week and, just as importantly, what they didn’t do and why.
This last one is very important and sometimes can become the elephant in the room, so it’s best to name it and make it a part of your agenda. In building a culture of accountability, it's crucial that we get used to talking about why we're not completing some of our tasks or meeting our goals. Transparency and flexibility are key to a good working relationship.
Ready to implement some tracking systems and monitor your progress? Check out the second part of this section on Results.
(And if it's all too much for you, feel free to get in touch.)