Roughly one in four virtual teams fails to reach its full potential and achieve its goals, according to OnPoint Consulting’s Virtual Team Study of more than 400 virtual team members and leaders. It’s clear virtual teams face unique challenges, so it’s critical for virtual leaders to set expectations from the beginning. To find out what that looks like in the real world, we spoke with HubSpot’s Clodagh Higgins.
Previously a senior channel consultant for the APAC region for international marketing software company HubSpot, today, Higgins operates in multiple time zones on any given day as a Program Manager on the HubSpot’s Agency Growth Team, which strives to develop a world-class partner program for the company. She works closely with leaders from the sales, marketing and services teams to accomplish that.
Clodagh recently took time out of her busy schedule to share some of her best tips for virtual team-building.
When you hire a new team member who will be working remotely, how do you set expectations for working well together?
It generally starts out with face-to-face. It’s very rare that someone will work remotely without having worked in the office at least for a few months. The first thing is that face-to-face bond with the team, and then the next step is we have regular team meetings.
There will be a monthly meeting where the team gets together and there will be a weekly one-on-one meeting where the manager will get on a video and conference to speak with a member of the team. The team has a fantastic Wiki page … (Intranet) and has built up this amazing resource that tells them all the things they need to do this week, next week, next month.
The other thing that we use is a communication tool called Slack, a way of instant messaging.
In your opinion, what are the most important elements that a virtual team needs to have to be successful? What is the leader’s role in ensuring those elements are in place?
I think the essential thing is just picking the communication tools that are going to work. Right now, it’s texting, Slack, email, Google Docs, WebEx, Google Hangouts, Skype. Some of the guys prefer Slack because they just don’t like talking, and I know some of the other guys just love a camera.
Every two weeks, we have a team meeting and we whip around the room asking, “What’s everyone working on? What do people need help with?”
I keep a Google Doc open as I’m trundling along through the week and remind myself of what I must talk to my boss about. If it’s something that can wait for our meeting, I put it into my meeting notes, and then when we get to meet, it’s a topic on the agenda.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your virtual team, and how did you overcome them?
In the beginning it was the isolation—I was so used to being part of the team in my own office. But I’ve made that work, because now I join other sales meetings; the sales team has brought me into their fold because I report to them. If someone is working remotely, I think the thing to do is to network at business events, to feel like they’re still part of the business community, go to the local chamber of commerce events or conferences.
We have Hug (HubSpot User Group) events all around the country, so just connecting on a physical level … helps with the isolation. Make your own office. Go to a cafe. Go and get a shared desk somewhere. There are plenty of ways, if you don’t like the isolation, to make this happen for you.
Within virtual teams, there’s more opportunity for misunderstanding and conflict to arise. How does your team deal with that?
The priority of the conflict has to be addressed by the person. Nine times out of 10, it can wait until your weekly meeting.
If it’s something that needs urgency, my boss has given me his phone number, so I just text and go, “Check out that email.” The multi-layering and open honesty, too … I know I’m going to make mistakes, but we’re working on a common goal and we’ve agreed on that through our team-building, at the beginning of the year. He’s shared why he’s taken the job. I’ve shared why I’m working in the job. Everyone in HubSpot is working there because they want to.
Stating your values, how you work best, and how you prefer to communicate at the beginning is a good way to start the relationship.
Any other advice you’d like to share for other leaders of virtual teams?
Don’t sit in your own team. If you come in at the sales side, don’t just sit in sales. Build a relationship with services; build a relationship with marketing. Because I had multiple relationships in the company, I got picked for this job.
Once you get competent in your own job, you start to think of other things that you see coming through the organization that you could help out with. You could see a webinar coming up and you would say, “Hi, marketing person. I’ve actually got a lot of webinar experience. If you need any help with this, I’d love to help.” You’re just sticking your neck out into areas that you’re working with. If you’re in the office, book lunch with them. If you’re virtual, book a meeting with them. Just hang out with them and just say, “Hey, what’s going on in your book of business? We share some accounts together. How can I help?” Just thinking outside the box. How can I help this other person?
Tips for Leading Virtual Teams
While a high-functioning virtual team operates much like any other team, it comes with unique challenges and requires extra effort. Virtual leaders need to become competent in the essential skills required to keep their teams motivated and hold them accountable from a distance.
Because the challenge of leading virtual teams is relatively new, many companies haven’t adopted best practices or properly trained their leaders.
That’s why OnPoint Consulting offers leadership assessments and interactive training for virtual leaders based on our own research and best practices.
To learn more about our programs for virtual leaders and virtual team-building, take a moment to browse our program guide.
Source: Rick Lepsinger
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