Now Re-think About How Your Team Did This Past Year
- What went well for you in 2016?
- What do you need more of in 2017?
- What do you need less of in 2017?
- What can I do to support your growth and development?
Now Re-think About How Your Team Did This Past Year
“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often have you had lunch at your desk and could not remember what you ate, or if you even did eat? It is easy to become very focused upon your task at hand. This focus is often referred to as “being in the zone” or “in the flow.” When there is an imminent deadline for a team project and you are the one finalizing it, you’ll sometimes find yourself in that state. Thus, these phrases have some positive value attached to them: productive, hard-working, energized.
Mindfulness and the CIO
However, when reality strikes, and the client calls, or emergencies arise, team members cannot be oblivious to the obvious: it is time to change tasks. As “being in the zone” might imply, hyperfocus can be good, but not always. The only place you have any impact is in the here and now. That cannot be achieved with your head down in the computer screen and your mind multi-tasking like crazy. Being present here and now in every interaction you have is a prerequisite for individual and Virtual Team success.
The buzzword often used is “mindfulness.” Rarely heard in management until recently, it is based upon Buddhist practices. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. “The outlook for CIOs, as they demonstrate mindful leadership, is excellent.” (J. Esser, Technology Forecast, 2013) Mindful leaders inspire mindful teams. Help your virtual team become more mindful right now.
Three Tips for Being More Mindful
Focus on teaching your virtual team members, and yourself, these three simple tips to help them be in the moment, not in the zone (or zoned out during an online meeting, not that you’ve ever done that…):
Remember that these are just simple starter exercises in awareness. They are not immediate deep life changes, but in time they can be.. The more awareness and mindfulness you bring into your daily life, the more you can authentically connect. You can tell when the person you’re Skyping with isn’t paying attention, as you hear their keyboard keys click. Don’t be that person. You do not need to drag out a yoga mat and sit in the lotus position to start your day, although many successful executives do. To be mindful means simply to be more aware, however you can, of the present moment.
Three Benefits of Being Mindful in the Moment
There are three things you, and any virtual team member, can think about: the past, reliving things you messed up; the future, worrying about things you need to do later; and the present, what is happening right now. Barring using a time machine, the only place you can have an impact is in the here and now. Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over.”
While there are many benefits to being in the moment, for individuals and for virtual teams, here are three notable ones:
Mindfulness is awareness about moment to moment thoughts of the person and the team. It allows for better relationships, appropriate focus, and better presence among virtual teams Michele McDonald notes that “when we are actually connected with our current experience with single-pointed attention, we are free to form greater connections with others, to become more of a team.” (Dharma lecture, 04/2005) What CIO or team leader couldn’t use that?
Tell us how you create mindfulness within your team. We want to know.
Last time, we talked about how your virtual team members can benefit from recognizing their blind spots. Paired with listening to feedback from others who may be able to identify our blind spots is a good strategy to be attuned to your surroundings and yourself.
In this article, we’re going to focus on ways to maintain a good view of what is inherently away from view, especially in a work environment that can be prone to triggering employees to run on auto-pilot and be disengaged from their team.
If you do not notice how you behave toward others, especially with distance wedged between you and your virtual team members, you may fail to recognize how your behavior affects your team. What you cannot recognize, you cannot change. It takes conscious effort to recognize blind spots.
The world is busy and so is your virtual team. It should not come as a surprise that so many individuals today run on auto-pilot, removing themselves from the moment they are physically in.
Are you constantly on auto-pilot?
Stop and think about your day.
At any point, did you get distracted while typing an email to a colleague and still managed to hit send? Perhaps you were reading something on your computer screen while your hands reached to dial the teleconference number for your next meeting.
Take a moment and think about your reasons for being on auto pilot. Do they include:
Let’s focus on technology.
How technology can hinder your virtual team’s engagement
With technology so mobile and offering so much information in your pocket, it’s easy to get caught up in devices when they offer so much to do on the go. Your virtual team relies on technology and the mobility it offers.
But sometimes, what allows your team to be virtual can be taken for granted at the expense of the team. A trap people can fall into is becoming so absorbed in technology and their devices that they don’t pay attention to their surroundings, let alone themselves.
An example of this trap is when Virtual Team Builder’s founder, Claire, once sat in a lobby across from a young man who was focused on his iPhone. Claire stepped away from her seat, leaving her laptop for no more than a minute. A homeless gentleman, wrapped in a blanket, picked up Claire’s laptop and walked out of the building. The young man on his iPhone never even noticed; his eyes never left his device.
Is there ever a right time for an auto-pilot setting?
Your auto-pilot comes on to assist you in checking off items on your to-do list without having to be completely present while the task is done. Your auto-pilot allows you multi-task. Your auto-pilot helps to just get things done, but at what risk?
Your virtual team needs to move beyond just getting things done – whether it is during your team meetings or your one-on-one’s. After all, the person on the other end of the technology deserves your full attention.
Even without seeing (replace the hands fumbling, they can be doing anything), you can still tell if someone is distracted or disengaged from a conversation.
You need to be aware and recognize that what you’re doing can be felt and sensed by others.
How can you achieve this self-awareness?
Here are steps to follow:
Your virtual team’s reactions to you may not always be readily accessible; you can’t see a frown over phone line or crossed arms. If you let yourself do everything mindlessly, including interacting with your colleagues, you can miss the cues that are available to you.
If being so absorbed in technology can cause the young man with the iPhone to miss Claire’s laptop being stolen in a face-to-face environment, realize how many cues you might be missing in your virtual environment unless you attend to what is around you.
In the next few articles, we’ll explore how an overwhelming list of things to do, boredom and virtual meetings can cause your virtual team to run on auto-pilot and lead to disengagement.
Your virtual team can move beyond an auto-pilot setting and make a habit of engaging with themselves and with each other through genuine presence, fostered through self-awareness. Virtual Team Builders can help you get there.
Whenever you’ve tried to pursue something – a fruitful job interview, a presentation well done, or a healthy relationship with your virtual team – you may have heard the age-old advice: “just be yourself”. Even we have said it. To be yourself, you have to recognize and acknowledge everything about yourself – even the bad stuff. You must know yourself wholly.
What does it mean to know your whole self?
We have talked about the shadow self before and how engaging with our shadow selves helps us gain greater self-awareness and heightens our empathy for others.
Imagine yourself driving a car; the space behind the passenger seat just outside your door that isn’t visible to your side mirror is your blind spot. Your blind spot is similar to the shadow self: it is not visible until you make the conscious effort to turn your head and see what is or isn’t there. Failing to see or acknowledge your blind spot is dangerous and can cause accidents.
Not acknowledging a car in your blind spot and risking a car crash is similar to not acknowledging the qualities in yourself you may not like and risking another sort of crash – a breakdown of a relationship with a virtual team member, for example.
How can your blind spot affect your virtual team so much?
In a face-to-face environment, body language is present along with verbal correspondence to communicate with your team. You get immediate reactions from others and you can respond instantaneously.
In a virtual team, it can be more challenging to know your virtual team mates’ reactions to you. Behind a computer screen or on the other end of a telephone line, it can be easier for a slighted team member to hide or disguise his or her disengagement, annoyance, or anger.
In a virtual workplace, without the aid of indicators like a half-smile or crossed arms, your knowledge of yourself can help you navigate through your virtual team and help strengthen your relationships rather than hurt them.
How does not knowing yourself impact your relationship with others?
If you have a quality that causes strain in your relationships, you must identify this problematic quality and take ownership of it. Taking ownership means that you can take control of it; you can work through it, you can change it, you can stop it.
Seeing what is in your blind spot is empowering! It lets you know if and when you can change lanes to get to where you want to be.
What conscious efforts do you make to ensure you have a good handle on your blind spots?
Often, the management skills that will make you a great leader in virtual teams are the same life skills that will help you navigate life in general. Today, we’re going to talk about a concept that might help you navigate your personal development inside and outside of your virtual team.
We don’t always get along with our friends, family, and colleagues: it’s a fact of life but because of the importance of social interaction in virtual teams, virtual team leaders need a set of strategies for dealing with conflict and negative emotions before they get out of hand.
Think about the last time you found yourself annoyed by a member of your team: maybe a colleague has been giving you a hard time, maybe they have a quirk that irritates you, maybe they stress you out.
But consider this: the behavior that other people exhibit that you find annoying are also present in you. In fact, the reason that you find them so annoying is because you’ve spent so much time working to suppress those qualities in you.
This concept, known as the “Shadow Self” was first articulated in the West by psychologist Carl Jung.
To simplify, Jung believed that there were two elements to human beings:
When we get annoyed at other people’s behavior, we are in fact reacting to our own supressed behavior that we don’t like.
The problem here is that supressing our feelings is seldom helpful. In fact, it can lead to damaging effects on your mind and body, and our relationships with others.
Instead of dealing with anger and annoyance by repressing our feelings, or lashing out at others, we can use our feelings to make ourselves more whole, genuine, and present..
Let’s give an example for how this might work:
Let’s imagine that you have a colleague who interrupts other people during virtual meetings. It drives you up the wall. Instead of suppressing your feelings, or lashing out at them, you can ask yourself: is this behavior something that exists within me?
When we search our annoyances for things we dislike about ourselves, we engage our shadow selves. By engaging our shadow selves, we gain greater awareness of who we are, and greater awareness that other people are not so different from us. That awareness will allow us to react with compassion instead of frustration.
The solution isn’t to push or change aspects of our shadow selves away from our behavior, but to acknowledge and embrace their presence.
The next time you find yourself annoyed at a team member, search your memories, your feelings, and your own self-knowledge. Are you annoyed because of something that you have been suppressing? Acknowledge your feelings of annoyance, but then move past them to realize your similarity to your team, and your own true self.
In our last blog post, we talked about authenticity: far from being a feel-good fad, authenticity has been found to be incredibly important to leaders, and especially to leaders of virtual teams.
Suffice it to say that authenticity breeds trust, and trust is the driving force for engagement, productivity, and results in virtual teams. Authenticity is also surprisingly hard to achieve. To be authentic is a process of learning to be self-aware.
We believe that authenticity is a major facet of the human side of virtual teams. Authenticity refers to being true to who we are.
Our authentic selves must be expressed through our actions; in other words, we must live genuinely. Living genuinely allows us to be fully present in our jobs, families, and every activity in which we are engaged in, including our virtual teams.
We can’t be fully aware of our authentic selves without being fully present. So let’s take a moment to reflect on our level of self awareness.
Evaluating your level of self-awareness
We have a series of things to consider to guide you through this process.
What else do you notice about yourself in and out of virtual meetings?
What do you notice about your team members?
How to use self-awareness as a leader
If you are the leader, consider how you can influence your team in a positive way. One way of encouraging your virtual team to be present, be more aware, and be more authentic is to open the dialogue to them about what presence looks like in your team.
At the beginning of a meeting, have a conversation with your virtual team about what being present looks like; engage your entire team in the conversation.
Self-awareness leads to presence
The more you are aware of your behaviour, the more authentic and present you can be, and the stronger of a leader you can grow.
In our next blog we’ll continue developing our self-evaluation from an outside source: we’re going to ask how your team members perceive you.
In our last post, we talked about making genuine connections with your virtual team members, and what that really means. Connecting with people virtually goes beyond simply sharing information about each other; it comes from genuine intention to grow relationships, and the genuine presence that comes from that intention.
Today, we’re going to talk about how your virtual team members can feel energized from finding commonalities that drive the team forward.
How can energy help you drive your virtual team?
Many individuals get energized from being around friends, family, and colleagues. When they plug into these groups, they feel energized. When you can “plug in” your virtual team to each other it can produce incredible energy.
But how does this connection happen?
Have you ever been in the company of a leader or team member who exudes excitement for their work and then felt pumped about your own role thanks to their infectious energy? Just as one person’s reason why they do what they do drives their work ethic and engagement, it can also fuel the fire in a colleague’s work.
Part of the energy that we feel or sense comes from the genuine presence that we discussed earlier. When you feel like the person on the other end of the telephone line or the computer screen is actually being attentive to you, you’re likely to feel heard and like your voice truly matters. Feeling this presence can energize your virtual team.
How can you create this energy in your virtual team?
By finding out what truly matters to each of your team members.
You’ve stayed in your job for a reason. That reason is what’s driven you forward through all the setbacks and uncertainty that accompanies any career.
What about the people you work with?
Get to know each other as co-workers and as individuals by digging deep about why you do the job you do. By opening up to each other, your purposes and values take the forefront.
Why are driving forces important in a virtual workplace?
Revealing your virtual team’s common purposes and values can achieve three things:
When you achieve this you go beyond the task, beyond the superficial; you contribute something that matters, not just to your team, not just to your corporation, but to the world.
At Virtual Team Builders, our goal, our “something that matters” is making the world a smaller place. We aim to change the way virtual teams work by creating truly connected virtual teams. It’s why we do the work we do, and it’s why we write blog posts like these. It’s up to you now to find your “something that matters” with your team.
We have been talking about virtual teams’ challenges; now let’s discuss solutions! In our past blog posts, we talked about how virtual teams are more common than we think (any team where members are 90 feet apart, or more qualifies as a virtual team), and the challenges virtual teams face. Today, let’s review the two elements that make virtual teams successful: task processes, and socio-emotional processes.
The first element—task processes—is pretty straightforward. Task processes means any processes that keep everyone contributing, and on schedule. Task processes can take many forms: from team meetings to status reports.
In virtual teams, task processes are especially helpful when they clearly define roles and responsibilities, set out priorities for the team, and establish the levels of accountability that each team member has.
People talk about task processes a lot—and rightfully so, it is important—but we also need to focus on the second element of successful virtual teams. This second element is socio-emotional processes, and it’s where we often falter.
We often ignore establishing socio-emotional processes. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not sure how to handle these processes, and other times, we think that this “soft stuff” is somehow not serious enough for the workplace. But no matter the reason, ignoring the socio-emotional element actually hurts the cohesion and effectiveness of a team.
There are two parts to socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: trust and communication.
Trust is a hugely important element of work, whether it is virtual or face-to-face. However, trust takes longer to build in a virtual environment. It takes four times longer to build trust in a remote environment than in a face-to-face environment. And remember: this is just as true if a team is on different floors as if they work in different countries.
If your team is more than 90 feet apart from each other and communicating primarily through email, phone, or messaging, trust is something you’ll have to consciously work at developing.
Trust comes primarily through identification with each other—“we’re all on the same team”—and through repeatedly matching words to actions. So, building team identity and cohesion, which is an on-going activity and encouraging people to consistently perform what they communicate is a vital part of the trust equation.
This brings us to the second vital part of the socio-emotional processes of a virtual team: communication.
It is harder to communicate in a virtual environment. Without body language, tone of voice, or environmental context, it is harder to transmit a clear message of what we mean. With that in mind, our communication must be clear.
Strategies that can help in establishing clear communications are the following:
Let your virtual team know when you will be available to discuss task or non-task related issues.
This may be more easily implemented in a face-to-face environment where you can actually close or open a door, and more challenging in a virtual environment.
If your company uses an internal messaging system, however, you may be able to change your status to signal that you’re welcome to talk! If you rely solely on email, a quick email to your virtual team member letting them know that you’re ready to dedicate a block of your time to anyone who wants to talk about anything may suffice.
How quickly are people expected to return an email, an IM, or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office? Having streamlined standards for lines of communications means that everyone knows what is expected of them and can behave accordingly. Similarly, they know what they can expect from others.
It’s hard to focus on socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: there’s no class on socio-emotional processing in college or university, and nothing in the business world has prepared us for the importance of this element of virtual teaming.
Luckily, that’s where we come in. Leave us a comment below for tips on how you can help strengthen the “soft skills” of your virtual team.
How does presence connect with authenticity in a virtual workspace? For the past few weeks, we’ve discussed presence in virtual teams. Today, we’re going to expand on that theme, and link it to a concept that is key to trust in virtual team environments: authenticity.
Since childhood, you’ve heard the advice to “be yourself”. There’s a reason everyone kept telling you this: to be yourself is to be authentic, and authenticity is the key to successful social interactions, meaningful relationships, and a generally happy life.
Authenticity is being aware of one’s core values, skills, and attributes, and behaving accordingly. In virtual teams, acting as our authentic selves enables our team members to perceive us as trustworthy. And, as we’ve detailed before, trust ultimately leads to increased team engagement and productivity.
“Being yourself” sounds like the most natural thing in the world to do, but it’s actually quite difficult.
In fact, it’s quite rare to be attuned to who you really are: every day, we manage personal and professional commitments, maintain a cornucopia of relationships, and absorb countless voices, images, and opinions broadcast to us by mass media. This sheer volume of relationships, information, and motivations can prevent us from taking a moment to discover our authentic selves.
However, discovering our authentic selves is key to managing our lives better—especially in the workplace.
The Harvard Business Review wrote an article a few years ago on the topic. In the article, the authors searched for characteristics of strong leaders across different sectors. Their research revealed that what made great leaders great wasn’t a laundry list of specific qualities. Instead, great leaders know who they are, and lead from there.
Okay, we’ve covered why authenticity is important. But if authenticity is being aware of one’s core values and acting accordingly, how do we discover that core? The key is self-awareness.
Authenticity is built on self-awareness. We become self-aware when we accept every part of ourselves:
Self-awareness can be most effectively achieved when we take a moment, or a few, for ourselves. It can be difficult to find time to self-reflect in the middle of our daily schedules, when we are the midst of contributing to business on a daily basis.
It can also be easy to become caught in the motions at work; you might be unconsciously performing a particular task in the same way, possibly due to the force of habit or because the pace of your business compels you to be efficient. However, it is worthwhile to create an opportunity for yourself to pause and objectively observe “you” in pursuit of self-awareness.
How does one create this opportunity?
In our next article, we’ll talk about just that: we’ll go over the ways to find time for self-reflection, and some questions to ask yourself to begin your self-evaluation.
Stronger leadership, easier relationship-management, and a more engaged and productive team can all start with you, which is why the next few weeks are all about you, and finding out who that really is.
In what ways do you establish trust with your virtual team and show your true self to them?
Our last few blog posts have been all about genuine connections in virtual teams and how it’s not only possible to build meaningful connections virtually, it’s possible to produce a feeling of authentic presence that engages employees and powers the team.
Authentic presence isn’t just to make things “nice” in your team, it affects your bottom line. Your virtual employees aren’t clockwork people: they’re human beings with human psychological needs—including the need for connection.
Virtual teams that don’t spend time on team-building end up with demoralized and disengaged employees, resulting in low output and high turnover. Front-line leaders and managers are key to preventing this: an engaging leader who shows his or her investment and presence will make a huge difference in keeping workers fulfilled and present themselves.
Engaging workers virtually starts with presence – the feeling that someone is in the room with you, and entirely attentive even when they’re miles away.
In our last blog post, we gave you some tips on presence, and some exercises to do. We’re not going to grill you on whether or not you did your homework, but we do recommend going back and giving these exercises a try if you have not been able to.
Today, we’ll be going one step further, and talking about the real key that goes behind these exercises: intent.
What do I want out of this interaction in my virtual work team?
That’s the question we want you to ask yourself for the next week. In every interaction you have with your team, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve, and if your actions are in line with that intent.
When most people ask themselves “what do I want out of this interaction”, they usually think about it, and realize their intention boils down to work. Either intentionally or tacitly, the answer to this question is usually “I want to communicate a task.”
In other words: you’re using this interaction to get something done.
It’s not a bad thing to want work to get done. After all, that’s what workplaces—virtual or not—are for. But if you’re in a virtual team and you want to get work done, and form the authentic presence that will make sure work gets done by motivated and engaged employees, we suggest complementing that intent with another.
Give this new intent a try: focus on it before meetings, remind yourself of it during the day, and—at the end of every interaction—ask yourself if your actions aligned with your intent.
Then ask yourself:
Life is too short and our work is too important to run around aimlessly without strong intention. Intent is powerful. In life, we start with intent, turn it into action, and—with luck—that action changes something about the world.