This is the second part of the post on Results, the third element of the VIRTUAL model of communication. Maybe you'd like to read Part 1 before continuing?
In the previous post on Results, I suggested some starting points, as well as the need to have a schedule to update each other and not leave it to chance. In this post, I go over how to set up monitoring systems and different ways in which your team can track results and be kept in the loop of what's going on.
Short, Sharp Changes
To help me put my own thoughts in order in a way that is useful to you, I’ve drawn some tips from Yael Zofi’s A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams. Here are five I picked up.
- When you create your schedule, take into account time differences and differences in time commitment, as mentioned above. If your team needs to deliver a piece of work by Friday afternoon, but you know that some of your team members don’t work for your team at the end of the week, move the deadline to a more meaningful date.
- As a way of tracking who is doing what and when, team members should share the steps they’re taking towards a piece of work and the actions they are carrying out.
- Make sure that the information team members need is documented and accessible to all. Consider whether some of the team members are already collecting data or research that will be of some use to everyone else and set up a system where this can be easily shared.
- Be clear on who can take decisions – for example, can the deadline be moved by someone who needs more time or is it set in stone? Can priorities be changed? Who should be informed of any new decisions taken?
- When is something “done”? Does it need to be checked by anyone else for the task to be marked as complete? Does it need to be shared or approved for it to be considered “done”?
Something that’s very clear is that in order to track results we need to make people’s objectives clear and specific – this is of course nothing new as the widespread use of SMART objectives shows. The other popular way of setting direction in companies is using Objectives and Key Results, OKRs. To find out about Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), read this interview with Matt Rogish, future guest on the 21st Century Work Life podcast.
In sharing our own objectives and our progress with the rest of the team, we let people know where we’re at, when they can expect that piece of work and of course, we avoid duplicating work.
For teams where small deliverables are important and where everyone needs to be aware of each other’s progress all the time, a visual representation is key. This means that at any point, with a glance at the screen, we can see where we are at and if there are any red flags. Of course, and this goes without saying, this needs to be updated constantly – if not daily, then weekly, or else it won’t represent a true picture of what’s going on.
Hugo Messler CEO of Bridge Staffing, recently shared the spreadsheet his team uses to track their goals. Spreadsheets are an effective way of sharing how you're doing, especially if you use different colours to signify different things. BUT, these spreadsheets are useless without them being updated, so make sure everyone understands why they're there, when to update them, how to update them and how to access them.
Depending on what your team is used to, you could have a shared calendar where all deadlines are shown – those that can’t be moved in red, those that can be moved in green and those tasks that have been completed marked as complete, in some way. Or you could use a bit more sophisticated system, like the Trello board. If tasks are relatively simple, they can be included as a card, with a due date on it, which can then be moved to a Board marked Done.
Or you could all email the rest of the team on Thursday afternoons with a short report on your Progress, Problems and Plans. A manager cited in Yael Zofi’s book had set up these reports to be sent on Thursday afternoons so that changes to plans could be communicated on Friday.
To continually evaluate not just the day-to-day progress but also the general direction of the team, think of setting up different kinds of checking in processes to address short and long term goals.
In addition to helping us track results, personal objectives help us not just to clarify where we should spend our energies but they also affect our motivation to get our work done or to go the extra mile. In her book, Yael Zofi considers the different factors that contribute to this.
- Do I know why I’m doing what I’m doing? What is the business case, how do I fit into the bigger picture?
- What are my responsibilities: what deliverables am I responsible for?
- What’s the basic schedule?
- What results are expected of me and how are they going to be measured?
These are the kind of questions that can help you and your team design the processes and systems to help you monitor your work. To hear more about good practice when setting goals with your team, have a listen to the Virtual Coffee with Lisette segment in Episode 27 of the 21st Century Work Life podcast.
The Long Road to Success
Setting up these processes will take time, especially if you’re involving all team members in the discussion. Whether you’re going for something quick and simple like a weekly video meeting, end of week email or an end of day update in an online tool, always review and evaluate how well the processes and tools are serving you.
Don’t ignore those times when people are not following the process – at best, they could reflect that the process or tool you’re using is too complicated or difficult to integrate with team members’ workflow or other collaboration tools. At worst it might mean that people have stopped caring and can’t be bothered to stay in touch. In between you might have people struggling and not wanting others to know, team members not being clear on when their work is considered complete or them feeling like they’re not really making any progress.
Be an advocate for the process of communicating and tracking progress and measuring results. You’re the first one that needs to keep your own results up to date and visible. And if part of your job is to make sure these systems are in place, make sure the guidelines for using them are clear.
Are you still unsure of where to start? Get in touch.