From New York to Hong Kong – How to Master Leading Virtual Teams

Leading teams in today’s business environment is more complicated when group members are located across different cities, states and continents. And today, more than ever, people are leading—or participating in—virtual teams.

When managing a virtual team, it’s critical that you have some of the “musts” for high-performance teams: purpose, vision, goals and priorities, operating agreements, shared leadership, boundaries and standards, roles and responsibilities, communication agreements, rewards and recognition and resources.

And you will also need to:

  • Be Culturally Sensitive – Culture does not necessarily mean NY and Bombay. It can also mean NY and Atlanta. Look at your organization, see where your teammates are located and make sure you are familiar with and are well-versed in the locations’ cultural sensitivities.
  •  Mind the Time Zones – Clients often complain about meetings being scheduled either too early or too late. Or they are unable to have the entire team on the same call or virtual setting. If you are setting up a meeting at 9am for the East Coast, remember that it’s 6am on the West coast, 2pm in London and 9am the next day in Beijing.
  • Get Creative with Team Bonding Activities – With team members all over the world, having team bonding in one location may not make sense. Get creative—have a virtual coffee gathering!
  • Create Set Meeting Times – Have set meetings for the whole group. This will ensure the team meets consistently.
  • Rotate Locations and Meeting Leaders – Have people spend time in each other’s locations and rotate team leaders to engender shared leadership.
  • Learn What Works for Each Site – Consider the working hours, norms for each office and anything else that would be an opportunity or challenge to how the team works. Ensure your teammates have access to the same technology and tools. Just because you have something doesn’t mean everyone else does.
  • Select the Right Technology – In a virtual team, technology is the medium for communication. Be wary of technology that drops words or mysteriously shuts down. Find a technology that works.
  • Find One Central Place – Create one place to keep team agreements, notes from interactions and anything else the team would find valuable—in one place, accessible to all.
  • Decide on Engagement – Determine how to keep engaged with virtual team members, as it’s too easy to settle for “out of sight, out of mind.” As the team leader, you must spend double the time communicating because you won’t have those accidental interactions of catching someone in the hall. Create planned and unplanned ways for interaction.
  • Run a Virtual Team Meeting Well – When running a virtual meeting, ask a lot of questions, don’t monologue (you will put people to sleep and encourage multitasking), allow people to interact, document who is on the call and how many times they have spoken up (it should be an equal number for all), call on people to ensure everyone participates and follow up with next steps in writing.

If you are not physically in the same office—whether you are located in different parts of the NY area to Johannesburg, South Africa—you are part of a virtual team. But virtual teams provide a terrific opportunity to create more engaging ways for the group to interact, mingle and get to know each other well. Mastering your leadership and participation in these teams is essential to growing your career.

(Esther Weinberg is a leadership expert and a cable veteran with a 20-year track record in the industry.  She creates breakthrough strategies for such companies as ESPN, Microsoft, Scripps Networks, NBCUniversal, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., Motorola, Warner Bros, Disney ABC Television Group and MTV Networks, among others.  She is a contributing source for the leadership book “Breaking Through” by acclaimed author Barbara Stanny and her latest book, “Leadership Hollywood Style” will be out later this year.  Esther is a Board Member of NAMIC-Southern California, a member of Women in Cable Telecommunications and the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association.) 

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