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
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 how virtual teams are more common that you think. Virtual teams aren’t just small groups separated by hundreds of miles. In fact, you can be of a virtual team if you are more than 90 feet apart from each other. You could be in a virtual team right now, and not even know it.
So far so good. But, there’s a problem here: what happens if your virtual team has challenges (as all teams do from time to time)? Would you try to solve the virtual challenges using traditional, face-to-face solutions?
If you do try to fix virtual team issues with traditional face-to-face solutions, it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. We’ve seen this before, and it wastes leaders and managers time and money, without even solving the problem. This happens because face-to-face teams are just not the same as virtual teams. To solve virtual problems, we need to use virtual team solutions.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves: before we even talk about what problems a team might have, we have to talk about three major differences in virtual teams that typically cause issues.
In spoken conversation, a sentence means a lot more than its parts. The non-verbal cues—tone of voice, body language, context—affect the meaning of the message. In fact, in face-to-face conversations, studies show that a large part of communication is completely nonverbal. But, when we communicate virtually, we lack this nonverbal communication. This makes it much harder for us to communicate, in an environment where everyone needs to stay on the same page.
When we can’t communicate clearly, we open the door to inefficiency—“when was that meeting again?”—and to lack of trust—“what did they really mean when they wrote that email?”—which is why we need to emphasize clear communication in our virtual teams.
We build trust based on how reliable a person is (how often they match their words to their actions), and how similar they are to us. Developing trust is probably the most important element of virtual teaming, and it’s definitely the most written-about element in blogs and articles on virtual teams. But, what does trust really look like in a virtual environment? What does it mean to build truly meaningful, authentic, and trusting connections virtually, and why is this so important to talk about?
We will address these questions in future blogs, but for now lets look at some facts about trust; did you know that it takes four times longer to build trust in virtual environment than it does in a face-to-face environment? And when you add cultural diversity into the mix, this adds an extra 17 weeks for the team to perform as well as a face-to-face team. This is because, in a virtual environment, we need to re-learn how we communicate and interpret our non-visual communication.
If trust is breached in a virtual environment, it can form a toxic work culture. If a virtual team has diminished trust, they become disengaged and demoralized. This can lead to retention problems. Lack of trust can also derail projects; in a study by Reed and Knight in 2010, these researchers found that “hidden agendas”—a single team member working towards their own end, and not the team’s—were reported as more common in virtual than face-to-face teams. They suggested that strong trust prevented hidden agendas from becoming a problem.
Engagement is a broad term that more or less means how committed a team member is to the team. Engaged team members work harder, think better, and enjoy their work more.
We all want engaged team members, but engagement in the virtual workplace requires new engagement strategies that are tailored for virtual work. Engagement in virtual teams is also tricky, because it’s much harder to know if a team is engaged or not: many companies measure virtual engagement with surveys that are designed for face-to-face teams. Unfortunately, traditional engagement surveys don’t work on virtual teams, because they study the wrong metrics. That means if you survey your virtual team based on face-to-face engagement surveys, not only will you not get the data you need, you might just highlight that the organization doesn’t understand or value virtual workers. Again, using face-to-face tests for engagement in a virtual environment will waste time, lose money, and cause stress for everyone involved, without even providing any useful, actionable information.
Communication, trust, and engagement all change in virtual environments. That doesn’t mean they go away: in fact, they become more important. If you manage a virtual team and notice issues coming up, it could be due to these differences, and how they’re being addressed.
We recently read an opinion piece by David Amerland in Forbes.com’s Tech section. In the article, Amerland talks about Marissa Meyer’s decision to end virtual work at Yahoo, and lists what he sees as ways that virtual work can prevent agility and effectiveness in organizations.
We have a different take. While the article points out Yahoo and Google’s aversion to virtual work, it also ignores the success of companies like Basecamp, Mozilla, and Upworthy, among others, who are hugely successful and almost entirely virtual. Yes, we heard about Marissa Meyer as well, but we’ve drawn very different conclusions about what this means for virtual work.
With the right training, virtual teams can act and behave just as effectively as face-to-face teams, and even show improved efficiency, better profits, and a more fulfilled workforce. That’s why we’ve selected the main concerns of Amerland’s article, and addressed them from our standpoint.
How can I lead my virtual team?
This is a common concern that we’ve been addressing for years. First, let’s say that many leaders mistake “How do I lead my virtual team?” with “How do I control my virtual team?” If you want to control your virtual team, it means you don’t trust them. And if you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got far bigger problems to worry about.
Trust issues aside, Amerland suggests that newly-appointed virtual leaders have problems with routine tasks such as performance reviews. Now, let’s be clear: this difficulty absolutely exists. But, this doesn’t mean that leadership is impossible in virtual work, it means we have to keep the core of what good leadership is, but change the methods and tools we use to enact that leadership in a virtual environment.
How can my virtual team help my bottom line?
Amerland writes “Yes, remote workers may indeed be more carefree, happier and productive, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for their companies.”
We still haven’t figured out why the article links happy and productive employees to bad business. If anything, businesses should be doing more to create happy employees. Research shows that business are more profitable when they are run by happy and fulfilled employees—the kind you can find in properly-managed virtual teams. Even if you don’t want to talk about “soft” factors like engagement, virtual work still drives up profits; in fact, one source wrote that more virtual work could lead to an estimated 800 billion dollars saved in productivity gains across America, not even considering the saved time and energy spent not commuting.
How can I connect with my virtual team?
This last major concern of the article argues that virtual team members just don’t connect with each other like face-to-face teams do, and this hurts organizational cohesion. We’re not surprised that people still worry about making human connections in virtual teams. It’s a valid concern. In fact, at Virtual Team Builders, we try to help virtual teams change the way they work and improve their ability to make human connections virtually. Suffice it to say that virtual teams can be just as cohesive and organized as any brick-and-mortar office. In fact, in the next few weeks, we’ll be posting blogs that detail this exact topic, from how virtual teams can support the genuine human connections that make work rewarding, to how virtual teams can provide an unparalleled opportunity for us to come together to work on issues that we care about.
While virtual work definitely differs from traditional face-to-face work, it’s not going anywhere. The solution isn’t to step back from remote working, diffuse teams, and telecommuting. Instead, we need to step forward—providing training and support for virtual team members and leaders—to move into a future of more empowering, fulfilling virtual work.