Do you ever wonder: Why should I work so hard when everyone else seems to be working part-time (at best)? Since everyone else runs late on their commitments, I may as well, too. No one takes my requests seriously, so I have stopped asking. How can people expect me to stay awake during team meetings when they are so boring?!
If you’re feeling disenchanted or disenfranchised from your virtual team, it just might be time to look in the mirror. It’s tempting to blame lackluster team performance on everyone else, but in reality, there’s a lot that each of us can do to step up our game by taking more accountability.
Joining me this month is Lynette Van Steinburg, Principal and Owner of Virtual Effectiveness, a consulting firm based in beautiful British Columbia, where she helps distributed teams be more collaborative and productive in their work. Lynette and I recently met to lament the fact that a lack of personal accountability is pervasive in many virtual teams; without frequent personal contact, it can be easy to shirk responsibility and “forget” about commitments.
For those of you who want to demonstrate exemplary virtual team behavior and inspire others to follow suit, these tips are for you. We invite you to download a more complete checklist here.
Be accountable for your own participation. In a virtual setting, body language is typically limited or unavailable. Interactions, therefore, must be intentional; if you don’t engage your facilitator, then your facilitator will not engage you.
- Participate in building the agenda. If you have input, share it.
- Complete pre-reading prior to the session. Come to the meeting prepared to interact.
- Plan to participate – put aside your devices, email and any distractions.
- Share openly what you’re thinking and feeling (e.g., I’m not comfortable with that direction).
- If you feel your attention drifting, speak up or text/chat to become more involved. Answer questions, offer ideas, share your laughter, communicate expectations, and ask for clarification.
Make it easy to share and receive information. Ensure everyone has easy access to the information they need and want. Seek out information you want but don’t have.
- Identify information that needs to be shared. Ask colleagues what information they want but aren’t getting. Consider aspects such as project information, team profiles, business information (team, department, and organization), development opportunities, and political and cultural factors.
- Share information in a consistent way and on a consistent timeframe so colleagues can depend on it. This builds trust, improves decision-making and increases productivity.
- Identify version control guidelines and processes. If you’re using a collaborative editing tool, articulate expectations around who should do what and how it should be done.
- Agree on central locations where all information can be uploaded, accessed and reviewed. Don’t insist on reverting to “old methods” of sharing just because it’s easier for you.
Make progress and challenges visible to all. Don’t make people guess what you’re doing. Don’t make people guess what you want.
- Establish a consistent, simple progress reporting process for all project team members. (e.g., what you’ve completed, what you’re working on, what challenges you’re facing, and where you need help.)
- Establish protocols to make it easy for everyone to ask for and offer help.
- Use social networking tools to create an ongoing conversation with your colleagues for each project you are working on.
- Let colleagues know when you are available for immediate consultation, especially if you know someone is struggling.
Cultivate cultural literacy. Awareness and respect for cultural differences goes a long way in building trust and strengthening collaboration.
- Take the time to frame a conversation from the listener’s perspective.
- Ask your colleagues what’s important to them, and never assume you know the answer. (e.g., religious perspectives, caregiver requirements, meals and time with family, uninterrupted vacation).
- Respect your colleagues’ work schedules and time zones. Be aware that different cultures handle the sharing of information, decision-making, disagreement, conflict, giving and getting feedback, and a host of other factors differently. Be aware of the differences so you can decide the extent to which you will modify your approach accordingly.
- Try to avoid acronyms and turns of phrase that may be popular in your culture but have little, different, or no meaning elsewhere.
It’s easy to let the blame and responsibility sit on someone else’s shoulders, but in a virtual situation, if you want to be successful, you need to step up and take accountability for your own success and the success of your team. Start building new habits by employing the tactics above, a few at a time, in your virtual interactions. The next time you have the urge to complain about how someone else is handling a situation, take a step back and consider what you can do to help make positive changes that will benefit everyone.
Be Accountable for the Success of Your Virtual Team: Downloadable Checklist
Read more from Lynette by following her on LinkedIn and checking out her blog where she talks about key differentiators between in-person and virtual interactions like virtual balance, virtual meetings, accountability, addressing time zone differences and more.
Virtual Leadership Series from Guided Insights