Coaching virtual teams

11 Feb

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      Today’s business projects often span territories and involve virtual teams either nationally, or across the globe. As a result, coaching a virtual team, can bring its own challenges and while communication is vital, there are a few other useful points to consider when coaching a virtual team.

      Align the team to the corporate objectives

      It is always vital to have a common focus and purpose for the team that aligns with organisational goals.

      Create an infrastructure and identity for the entire team

      People like to feel connected to the team, so with the team’s participation, create an identity. That may be as simple as a name for the team, a logo, or Facebook page, but something that defines the focus for the overall team, regardless of where they are located. Find a mechanism that allows members of the team to communicate exclusively with each other independently of your involvement.

      Create connectedness

      As the coach or manager of a virtual team, find ways to connect members to the greater purpose. This might be to have one to one conversations with each member to find out more about them and identify areas of common interest, discuss how they contribute to the greater team and acknowledge those that are missing in conference calls so that they are not “forgotten”.

      Over-communicate and elaborate

      In a virtual team conversation, it can sometimes seem that you’re stating the obvious. Telling others that the office you are in today has a small desk, with a phone and a window overlooking the car park might seem obvious to you, but to others they can create a picture of where you are located, which is more helpful than making assumptions. These small details can make the difference between an effective team conference call, and one where people feel disconnected and left out.

      Develop team processes

      If you are holding regular conversations with a virtual team, create a simple process so that members know when to communicate. For example; you agree as a team in which order you will communicate, so it may be the order that you arrived on the conference call, or by alphabetical order of first names. That way, there are no long silences if you ask a question and everyone knows they’ll have a chance to contribute.

      Social conversations are valid

      In order to build trust within a virtual team, the members need to get to know something about all the others in the team including the team leader or coach. So, encourage members to share something about themselves personally, which can then encourage others to follow up at a future meeting. For example, if a member is a keen athlete, the others can ask how training is going or what races they have done recently. Don’t view this as time wasting, but as valuable relationship building.

      Review progress

      Regularly check in with the team to see how effective the virtual team is. That might mean asking a series of questions and requesting that each member responds on a range of 1 – 10 (1= poor, 10 = great). Then, don’t comment, or judge, but thank each person for their thoughts and ask a follow up question – e.g. what would we need to do to take our listening skills from a 7 to a 10?

      Effective chairing of conversations

      In a virtual team, it is important to maintain a positive environment where members feel engaged and willing to ask questions and contribute. To avoid the situation where more dominant members hog the conversation, or are overly negative, encourage each person to keep their contribution short, focused and to the point. Don’t be afraid to step in and cut someone off, if they are talking for too long, and regularly summarise what is being said and any action points that have been agreed. Focused, snappy and short sessions are far more likely to be effective than calls where one person dominates, others are ignored or the topic is rambling. Another way is to rotate the role of Chair and minute taker to encourage participation.

      About the Author

      Sue Stockdale is a motivational speaker, executive coach and record breaking explorer.  She works with some of Europe’s top companies, helping them to manage change and deliver improved performance.  Sue brings a powerful combination of business acumen, and psychological insight to her work with leaders and teams.

      As a high achiever, Sue has represented Scotland in athletics, and was the first British woman to ski to the North Pole.  She is author of several business books and her academic background includes an MBA in Entrepreneurship and a Masters degree in Quality Management.

      Written by Association for Coaching

      Established in 2002, The Association for Coaching ® (AC) is an independent, not-for-profit body with the goal to advance the profession of coaching worldwide. This includes promoting best practice and raising the awareness, standards and ethics of coaching, with members made up of professional coaches, trainers/providers of coaching, and organisations building coaching cultures.

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