Virtual Teams

Managing performance and coaching virtually

Internal research carried out by outdoor clothing firm Patagonia found that their high performing teams were the ones who instigated regular check-ins and continuous feedback. But with many of our teams now rarely meeting face-to-face, how can we maintain this regular dialogue virtually?

Technology can help:  for example, online pulse tool 15Five prompts virtual team members to take 15 minutes a week to answer an online questionnaire that lets their manager know their work progress and how they are feeling, and managers take five minutes per team member to read, ask follow up questions or offer support as needed.

This kind of pulse approach maintains meaningful dialogue throughout the year, rather than storing it all up for an out of date download at end of year performance reviews. Companies such as Cisco have seen dramatic improvement in their communications and feedback by using similar tools.

This is backed up by academic research with 40 global teams that demonstrated the importance of a strong one-to-one relationship between the emergent manager and virtual team members. Their findings showed that when this relationship was strong and the leader communicated frequently, the virtual team member was more likely to contribute to team decision making, which in turn had a positive effect on team innovation. The importance of this increased as team members became more dispersed.

There’s a delicate balance for the virtual leader to tread between supportive communication and micro-managing.  Adopting the mindset of coach not inspector will help, as well as assessing performance based on outcomes rather than the number of hours clocked.

In some companies that are further along the digital journey, technology is playing a leading role. Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds (with $100 billion under management) has been running a project to automate hiring, firing and strategic decision making since December 2016.

In many forward thinking firms there’s also a shift from focusing on the performance management of the individual to the performance management of teams – and therefore a corresponding shift in success metrics to things like trust, inclusion, diversity and clarity of roles.  The emergence of multiple and transient teams is calling for new types of goal setting – more horizontal, mission-based goals that cut across the functions.   In many cases SMART goal setting no longer reflects this complexity. If it’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bounded then it’s probably too trivial to really move your business forward.

If you would like to see more of our latest research led insights into virtual, matrix and digital teams please download our white paper here. Please note we only respond to corporate email addresses, not gmail or other generic ones.

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