The following article is an abridged version of “Digital Leadership: Leading Virtual Teams From Your Home,” an e-book written by Erik Kruger. Kruger is the founder of an international learning and development firm called Modern Breed.
On 30 June 2020 at 9 am (EST), Kruger will join panelists Nadim Habib and John Sanei and moderator Winnie Hart in a candid discussion about the future of leadership. This event is open to the public and requires registration.
Can you lead a virtual team, an organization, a revolution or people from your home?
Yes, you can.
But it won’t be easy.
COVID-19 forced many leaders and their teams to work remotely.
Thankfully, there are some easy steps to setting up your team while working from home. For example, installing a video conference application or collaboration platform such as Microsoft Teams can help you start communicating more effectively immediately.
But—and this is important—remote work does not a remote team make.
Virtual leadership requires some nuanced touches. To really help our teams to rise to the top and bring the best out in each other we need to adopt new ways of thinking and being.
If you are hoping that all this change due to the coronavirus will blow over and things will get back to normal soon, you might want to rethink your perspective.
I want to encourage you to assume a longer duration of the current situation. As my friend, John Sanei, says, “Act like we are never going back to normal.”
I know that’s not what you want to hear.
But embracing the idea that this might be a lot longer play is a necessary first step if you are going to help your team in committing to this way of working.
I want you to know that I have had the same resistance.
For the past few years, I have had the privilege of working with many teams as I facilitated coaching sessions and off-sites for them. There is nothing that beats the energy that is created in a room when a team of talented and intelligent individuals are feverishly working on bringing new ideas to life.
Although I have often facilitated conversations for teams online, I found myself thinking time and time again that “it’s just not the same.”
And that’s exactly the point. It’s not. But, also, it’s not supposed to be.
We cannot build new ways of working on old ways of thinking.
It took me some time, but I am now fully accepting of working with teams online. I enjoy it. I measure it differently. I approach it differently.
Here are three high-value tips you should consider as you continue your adventure in remote work, or what some people term Lockdown Leadership. For more recommendations on leading virtually, check out the original version of this article on my blog.
1. The Bearable Deadline and the Three Directives
What makes the experience of working virtually so unsettling is that there is no end in sight. If there were, things would be easier.
Seeing the clock countdown makes the unbearable bearable. It gives us something to aim at.
In fact, whether it’s counting down reps as you exercise, counting down time or seeing the finish line, I have always found that in those last moments I can push harder.
Goals do this for us. They give us something to work toward.
However, it’s impossible to have the exact same goals as you did before the global pandemic.
Therefore, my suggestion to teams has been to set three high-level directives, or goals, for the next 21 days.
The 21-day timeframe provides certainty. The directives provide direction.
For example, one of my prime directives is to add as much value to my clients (and non-clients) as possible. This is a high-level theme. What this encompasses though are several goals such as writing substantial blog posts like this one, being consistent with my Expansive podcast and delivering private webinars to teams.
You cannot move forward like nothing has changed.
Now is the time for short, directed sprints.
It’s guaranteed to provide your team with new-found energy and sense of purpose.
Join Erik Kruger on 30 June 2020 at 9 am (EST) as part of an EO virtual learning session called The Future of Leadership. The event is open to the public and requires registration.
2. The Magic Question
A question is a gift that unlocks new worlds. It opens the door to a new way of understanding.
One group I worked with showed me the incredible potential that one specific question has to reshape the entire dynamics of a team.
And that question is: “What do you need from me?”
When team members turn to each other and ask this question, magic happens.
Leaders, try posing this question to your virtual team and watch what unfolds.
It’s a simple query that has the power to create impressive depth in a team in a relatively short period of time.
If there is enough trust in the team, you will hear people asking for things such as support, more understanding or greater responsibility.
In a team with little trust, you will likely hear generic, superficial requests.
3. Fix the Meeting
The playground of teams are meetings. And as a virtual team, you will be spending a lot of time in virtual meetings—which are notoriously bad and often frustrating.
Effective meetings are the signature trait of high-performing teams.
And guess what? If your team already had poor experiences when meeting, problems this will be amplified online.
So, it makes sense to get meetings right.
Virtual meetings 101: Know your platform. Test it. Practice with it.
Next, I have found that the best meetings are founded on these key agreements:
Agreement 1: To The Point
Keep in mind that what makes virtual meetings challenging is the same thing that makes working from home challenging: Association.
Our screens are associated with scrolling, browsing, opening new tabs and multitasking.
So, guess what happens once the meeting starts?
We check our phones. We see new notifications coming in. We glance at our calendar. We sneakily reply to that Whatsapp message that came in.
What we need is focus and conciseness.
Therefore, the first operating principle for meetings is exactly that: Meetings are short and everyone’s full attention is required.
Consider making a ritual of everyone putting their phones out of reach at the same time as a grand physical gesture of locking into the call.
Agreement 2: Involve Them All
Everyone speaks at every meeting.
Ever noticed how speaking cues are much harder when on a call?
Sometimes it’s because of a tech issue causing a delay but other times it’s because your turn to talk is interrupted by one of the 10 other tiny thumbnails on the screen that were also waiting to talk.
To this end, it might be a good idea to ask someone to chair and facilitate the meeting. It doesn’t always have to be a manager or member of leadership.
It’s the role of the facilitator to make sure that we get input from everyone in the meeting.
Agreement 3: The Yoda
Here’s a little tip I picked up from Keith Ferrazzi:
Appoint a person in the meeting who is willing to challenge what is being said. The Yoda needs to say what is not being said in the meetings, helps resolve disputes and ensures that candor is being exercised to the highest level.
An additional role of the Yoda is to keep the conversation on track. It’s easy to get side-lined and go down a tangent. The Yoda recognizes when we are going too deep down a rabbit hole and then pulls people back so that the meeting stays focused and on point.
Agreement 4: Check In and Out
This is a great little tool and, I cannot believe I am saying this, icebreaker.
A quick check-in before we start is about gauging where people are emotionally before engaging with the meeting. You might not see the power of this right away but I encourage you to give it a go.
I have seen first-hand how people check-in by acknowledging that they aren’t in a good place and this immediately provides a moment for the team to rally around their colleagues.
The check-out is a similar process. Everyone ends the call by sharing how they are currently feeling and what they are committing to next.
Agreement 5: We Will Get Better
Want a great way to improve meetings?
Do a post-mortem.
Ask your team how they think the meeting went and what could have been done to make the meeting more effective.
Listen to the suggestions. Evaluate them as a team. Make small tweaks. Add things that work to the agreements list and keep refining the team operating system in the manner.
For many more practical tips for building a successful team remotely, read Erik Kruger’s unabridged article, “Digital Leadership: Leading Virtual Teams From Your Home.”