By Emily Luijbregts
During my presentation at this year’s PMXPO, I received a lot of questions about the skills needed to adapt to and excel in leading virtual teams. It seems to be something that a lot of project managers are struggling with at the moment, but it’s something that can be easily learned.
It all begins with building a strong foundation. First, make sure you understand each team member’s motivations and ambitions. If you do this, you’ll be able to better predict or know when there’s something wrong. If someone on your team is focused on receiving positive feedback, for example, that person may get demotivated or stressed when they don’t receive praise or are criticized. But if you don’t understand the root cause of this issue, you only see the person struggling.
You might be aware of Bruce Tuckman’s theory on team development in which teams move through five stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning. Do you know where your team members are right now? Where they’re struggling? What are their weaknesses? If you can look at this, you will be able to see the best way of managing them successfully.
Some teams won’t follow a linear pattern: They may regress during times of stress, the duration of the phases will not be identical and there may be times when it feels like they’re going through several phases in one day.
Once you’ve built your foundation, here are four more tips for managing remote or hybrid teams:
- Set team communication expectations early.
You need to define how the team will communicate and establish why it’s important to follow the protocols but also understand any restrictions. Someone might not have access to a webcam or have bandwidth issues due to unstable internet connection, for example. I recommend creating a team charter so everyone buys into the rules being agreed upon.
- Find ways to build team bonds.
One of the most important skills right now is being able to build a team even as people are working remotely or in a hybrid environment. How can you do that? Icebreakers allow team members to open up about themselves and share common interests. Or you can try to gamify project activities. If you use agile, for example, ask team members to estimate how many tasks they think they can complete by the end of the sprint.
- Practice active listening.
This is a really difficult skill to master, especially with remote team members as it’s even easier to get distracted. But try to take copious notes, ask follow-up questions and make sure the team has the opportunity to speak. If someone doesn’t have anything to say, try asking a future-looking question like: What are you aiming to complete in the next week? Where do you need support in the next period? In remote settings
- Check your own progress.
What are you communicating? How are you communicating it? Is it the best way? Most importantly, how can these messages be sent with clarity through the remote-work ecosystem? You can monitor how well you’re doing through daily check-ins with your team, stand-ups or individual calls. But be sure to be patient with your team—and yourself—as you navigate virtual communication.
What are your lessons learned for leading remote/hybrid teams?