Seven Tips for Managing Virtual Teams and Coaching Remote Employees
Managing virtual teams is challenging, especially when they report to a local manager (in India) and a virtual manager (you in SF). This ‘Identity Conflict’ is what I refer to in my latest book, A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams, as a conflict of ‘belonging’. Many times there are different perspectives around multiple priorities and deadlines, leaving the person confused about feedback, coaching and career development.
Without going into too much details about virtual conflicts around Context Communication, I’d like to offer some suggestions for managing virtual teams through a feedback/coaching conversation that you are about to have which is going to be via virtual communications (assuming telephone call).
First, keep communication lines open and transparent. Try to get specific feedback and examples from the local India manager and team members in Delhi about what this employee does, what impact he/she has, and how they accomplish outcomes. Make sure this feedback is behavior based (goals, tasks, situations).
Deliver balanced feedback built on what the person does well (and needs to continue doing) and what this employee needs to change/improve/enhance/do differently.
Begin with the employee’s perspective first. Allow the other person to complete his/her thoughts. Avoid dominating the conversation, even if you feel you have a lot to say. Make sure to consider the cross cultural factors and time zones/language differences. Often folks in India (even though the conversation is in English and they speak it well) are translating what is being communicated in their head. Be comfortable with long pauses and silence.
HERE ARE 7 STEPS FOR COACHING AND GIVING FEEDBACK FOR MANAGING VIRTUAL TEAMS – A FEW TIPS TO CONSIDER:
1. Use a Combination of Impromptu and Scheduled Feedback Sessions – It is important to have regularly scheduled coaching and feedback sessions with remote employees. But don’t pass up an opportunity to pick up the phone in between meetings when there is something important to discuss.
2. Use Technology Tools to Keep You on the Same Page – There are a lot more technology options than just using the telephone. Use web conferencing tools, wikis, or blogs for shared note taking. If possible, use webcams to allow a more “face-to-face” (what I refer to as ‘Virtual In Person’) type of interaction.
3. Begin With Expectations and Goals But Don’t Stop with Results – You probably use performance indicators and metrics (feedback on measurable results – M of SMART objectives) that will make discussing work outputs with your employee feel very natural, but don’t stop there. Use performance results as jumping off points into a deeper conversation about work activity and resource needs.
4. Listen Carefully to Your Employee – It is important to stay focused on your employee during remote feedback sessions. Busy managers must avoid the temptation to multitask. Use active listening techniques such as clarifying, paraphrasing and giving feedback. When responding, make sure to restate what you heard and give the person time to explain. Use a combination of Written, Voice and Virtual-in-Person (three components of Context Communication). Ask for suggestions and LISTEN (from my cross-cultural communications model L= Listen, E= Effectively Communicate, A = Avoid Ambiguity, R = Respect Differences, and N = No Judgment).
5. Give Balanced Feedback – Itemize the merits and faults in that order, making them specific and task related. Always express faults as concerns, not criticisms! Offer suggestions that retain the merits and estimate the faults. Then invite further comments because feedback is a 2-way exchange.
6. Build on an Idea and Offer Positive Reinforcement – Make sure to indicate how you want to improve the idea or suggestion. Make the connection between the person’s perspective and yours. Then mention additional benefits or advantages and suggest a modification. Check to be sure you haven’t distorted what the person was originally trying to accomplish.
7. End Discussion (Acknowledging The Other Person’s Vies and Feelings) and State Your Decision – Remember that remote employees don’t have the advantage of seeing what is going on, so state and restate your decision and support respecting the other party and suspending judgment. Remain positive. Reflect once again on the conversation and agree on a Feed-Forward approach (concept I call going from Feed-Back to Feed-Forward).
For more tips and techniques on managing virtual teams, refer to www.yaelzofi.com