Leading Virtual Teams

While the concept of the virtual team is relatively new for many companies, virtual sales teams have become a normal part of how they do business.  Yet, up to 60% of companies are finding that their virtual sales teams are not prepared to mobilize, coordinate, and deliver at the same level as teams that are on the ground and physically connected.
An aligned team is a strong team and a competitive advantage.  The challenge for sales organizations, such as global organizations, today is to ensure that their virtual teams execute with the same level of effectiveness as traditional teams.
A virtual team is more than a team in which there is geographic disbursement.  Virtual teams share many characteristics with traditional teams.  Like all teams, virtual team members depend on each other and are mutually responsible for outcomes.  The major difference is that virtual teams must rely on technology vs. face-to-face contact.  Therefore, communication is the pressing challenge.  It is also the measure of success.
To add to the challenge, team leadership usually isn’t traditional in that team members often don’t report to the virtual team leader.  Another common barrier is that team members represent different cultures, and misunderstandings are common.
Research shows that virtual team members often feel like they don’t know one another very well.  When they communicate, they spend less time on rapport or non-work business topics than face-to-face teams.  As a result, there is a lack of trust, cooperation, and good will.  Too often, the foundation of a relationship is absent.  Without informal networking in place, it is easy for tasks to get stuck in formal channels, causing delays, hard feelings, and lost opportunities. https://patellawteam.com/
But the fact that so many virtual teams are dysfunctional makes it possible for organizations prepared to do so to take advantage of this window of opportunity by taking several steps. 
First, develop virtual team leaders.  This is the most important step.  Success resides with the leader, whether or not there is a reporting structure in place.  Team leaders must understand how to align a team that is geographically disbursed so that all team members are committed to achieving the same objectives within the same time frames.
Without a strong, effective team leader, there is no glue to hold the virtual team together.  Virtual team leaders must be able to do three things:

  • Lead themselves
  • Lead the team
  • Lead the process 

As with everything in life, the ability to lead oneself comes first.  To keep the team involved, aligned, and on track, a virtual team leader must be clear about objectives, accountabilities, and demonstrate the skills to execute. 

Like all team leaders, the role of the virtual leader is to stratigize, delegate, share data, coach, and reward.  However, there is an added role which is essential when the team is virtual, and that is to set team norms of behavior and clarify expectations about how team members will communicate, share data, and when and how to respond to one another.  Sales 2.0 technology has been a blessing for virtual teams and has made connecting, sharing, and executing much easier – but the commitment to connect, share, and execute must come first – and that takes leadership.

Team leaders need to define a clear and repeatable process that virtual team members buy -into and then adhere to.  This process is the foundation for the team to successfully achieve its objectives.

We have identified a Six-step Virtual Team Process that team leaders can follow:

  • Identify Needed Resources – Determine who is needed on the team and what resources you will need and assess/anticipate availability.  Be strategic and leverage any strong team member relationships you have by making one-on-one calls to gain their support and help them align others before you approach the team members as a group. 
  • Lead Virtual Start-up Planning/Alignment Meeting – Once you have identified the resources you will need, schedule a team meeting (phone, webinar …) to help team members understand and buy into the team’s charter, objectives, benefits, and accountability to team members and to clients.  Develop and distribute a concise, written plan to define objectives, the output of deliverables, and time frames.  Make it clear that your plan is a starting point.  When appropriate, work with the team to modify the plan to gain agreement.
  • Assessment of Team Members – After your Start-up Planning Meeting, you will be in a position to determine the strength of the team.  Assess team members by charting roles, names/titles/positions, task to perform, importance of task, clients with whom they interface, and level of commitment to the mission of the team.  Rate each member as aligned, non-aligned, or not sure.  Think about what coaching you will provide to strengthen or maintain alignment and close gaps and compensate for weaknesses.  Think about team alternatives when necessary.
  • Continue to Lead Virtual Team, One-on-One, and Team Progress Meetings – While you will have a need to work with all virtual team members together, especially at critical milestones, you can maximize time and make a lot of progress in one-on-one virtual meetings as you move forward with the plan.  First of all, it’s easier to gain agreement one-on-one and you demonstrate respect for time by involving only those needed for particular parts of the plan.

– Use the team meetings to communication and confirm decisions.  End every meeting by summarizing decisions and accountability for the next steps and time frames.  

–  Give support as needed and follow up to make sure work gets done outside of the meeting (meetings are for planning and agreement of action steps and post meeting is time for doing).  If possible, take advantage of opportunities to meet face-to-face to build relationships and gain buy-in.  

– Use one-on-one or one-on-two/three meetings to deal with specific issues, address negativity or problems, and involve only team members who are directly impacted or need to be involved.

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