Leadership, according to Forbes, “is an authentic self-expression that instills value in others so much that it compels them to act”.
As we see virtual teams become more popular in today’s society, leadership in business is continuously challenged. Management experts always say that in traditional offices, it is easy to demonstrate leadership because a team leader gets to see his members face-to-face.
But if you are miles away from your virtual team, how would you practice virtual team leadership?
These attributes are a good start for having an effective virtual team leadership: empowerment, support, and consistency.
Much is expected from a virtual team leader. According to consulting agency Global Integration, virtual team leadership continuously face some of these challenges:
- Exercising influence without authority
- Leading people from different cultures and time zones
- Leading people who work with multiple teams or clients
- Engaging and communicating with people through technology
- Finding the right balance of trust and control with people who you don’t meet often
Virtual team leadership is complex. But it doesn’t mean it’s complicated.
Here are the virtual team leadership essentials:
Effective virtual team leadership has clear communication within the team and its outside partners (like clients and service providers). Identify your communication process with your virtual team: which tool to use and how often.
In a study published in Science Direct, communication (and media used) do have important effects on team interaction styles and cohesion.
In one of my virtual teams, we meet for 15 minutes before the start of work and before the end of work to make sure that everyone knows what to do and what each member needed before they began their day. No wonder we report awesome achievements at the end of the day.
Having an effective virtual team leadership also means that leaders provide a clearly defined direction and removes all ambiguity from the process. Roles and responsibilities are formalized through documentation.
2. “Motivation” environment
Motivation is internal to a person. But a virtual team leader can facilitate motivation by creating an environment that facilitates trust, openness, and commitment.
For instance, a virtual team leader could ask his or her virtual team to undergo training for skills improvement. A virtual team leader could also encourage team members to take on tasks that would help the member understand work processes. This allows a virtual team member to step up and become better.
3. Leaders arrive at decisions differently.
In another Forbes article, it was mentioned that teams don’t work the same everywhere. Why? We all come from different cultures. Imagine putting together a virtual team that was exposed to 8 different cultures growing up. If they work differently, they also decide differently.
A virtual team leader should have very explicit descriptions of how decisions will be made. An effective virtual team leadership has leaders that are willing to try out different types of decision-making processes at different points in a project to produce a good outcome.
In short, there is consistency in virtual team leadership. A virtual team does not need unpredictable leaders.
4. Critical skills in facilitation, monitoring, and building trust.
According to the Association for Talent Development, the critical skills that are considered the most different in leading a virtual team include the ability to:
- Use process facilitation skills for meetings
- Monitor team progress over time
- Balance work and life-based on 24/7 accessibility
- Establish and maintain trust in a diverse environment with multiple cultures
A virtual team’s goal is to get a project done. This means that a virtual team leader must be adept at keeping the team focused on the goals. With clear result indicators, roles, and responsibilities, and feedback, a virtual team should be able to keep track of a project in a timely manner.
For instance, one of my virtual team leaders allows us, members, to fill out the KPI (key performance indicator) spreadsheet every end of the workday to help us keep track of our goals for our clients. It is an effective virtual team leadership because it supports accountability and trust among the virtual team.
6. Leading from behind.
You have seen this scene many times in movies and TV shows: the leader is always in front of the pack. In an effective virtual team leadership, leaders also need to be able to lead from behind when appropriate. Virtual team leaders need to give their team members real, meaningful tasks and leadership of their own, and then support them as they perform their work.
As part of leading from behind, an effective virtual team leadership model the best behaviors and practices. Leaders should be open to different approaches to work while being culturally sensitive and situationally aware at the same time. Indeed, being curious about people, cultures, and challenges within the virtual team will make a virtual team leader effective.
Virtual team leadership effectiveness lies in continuous training and support. If you have virtual team leaders, ask them these questions:
- What structures do you need to ensure successful engagement of your team?
- What resources are available to help your team bridge a gap or eliminate a barrier to getting the desired results?
All in all, these are the tools if you want to have successful virtual team leadership within your company. This will provide trust, efficiency, and success for your team while producing amazing results for your clients as well.
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