Message from Julie: Virtual Teams Need Even More Intentional Leaders

message from julie: virtual teams need even more intentional leaders 1

Recently I was on a Zoom Happy Hour with colleagues from a professional organization I belong to. We were discussing the future of working remotely. A CEO commented on the difficulty of keeping team members focused on the right priorities when everyone is in person, let alone trying to do it remotely. Someone else commented that a virtual work environment requires leaders to be even more intentional when communicating priorities. 

Later I attended a webinar where Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, was talking about ways to build virtual teams more effectivelyHe stressed the need for leaders to be very intentional, especially when it comes to ensuring the kind of dialogue and debate that leads to healthy conflict, as well as when gaining commitment to a course of action. 

These and other conversations that I have had over the past few weeks have convinced me that if we want to have high-performing virtual teams, as leaders, we are going to have to be even more intentional. 

But what exactly does that meanhow do we do it, and why is it important? 

I find that intention is one of those words that is thrown around like culture or trust that people have a sense of what it means, but have difficulty defining or operationalizing. It is one of those, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” concepts. Yet if we are going to be effective leaders, especially when we are leading virtually, we must be able to embody intentionality, even if we can’t define it 

To paraphrase Donna Farhi from her book, Bringing Yoga to Life, intention forms an invisible scaffolding that gives structure and specificity to our efforts. Intention has no physical shape, yet it imbues meaning and gives purposeful direction.  

As leaders, our intentional communication of purpose, vision, goals, priorities, roles, and responsibilities, etc. gives our team a framework for focus and action. It guides decision making and leads to consistency across the organization – even when people are working remotely 

The challenge of course is that as leaders we often struggle to demonstrate intentionality even when we are working face-to-face, let alone in a remote work environment 

Here are five actions I have found helpful for increasing intentionality when working virtually (as well as in person) 

  1. Focus on the desired outcome versus the specifics of how you want something done. This of course requires you to be very clear on and specifically communicate that outcome. 
  2. Identify the top one to two priorities and focus everyone’s efforts on these. While limiting priorities is important regardless of whether people are working together in person or virtually, the importance is magnified in a virtual work environment. 
  3. Have frequent team meetings where all team members have their video cameras turned on. Starting or ending the day with a check-in can help people stay focusedon track, and connected. 
  4. Mine for conflict or differing points of view by asking more questions and assigning someone to play “devil’s advocate”, if necessary. Don’t assume silence means commitment. Encourage dialogue and debate before making decisions. 
  5. At the end of all meetings, summarize decisions and check for both clarity and agreement.  

In summary, leading virtually is really about doing more of those things we need to be doing anyway. 

What additional ideas or tips have you found for even more effectively leading a virtual team? 

 julie sign

Julie Chance 

POSTED ON: Conflict
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