How to Lead a Virtual Team: Support your staff (2/3)

How to Lead a Virtual Team: Support your staff (2/3)


As you might remember from our last article, we found that hierarchical leadership simply doesn’t cut it for virtual teams. How can we mitigate these losses and improve team productivity? Julia Hoch and Steve Kozlowski’s study might also provide us with an answer to that question. They show that teams with better communication systems and reward schemes have a higher overall productivity. This is especially true for virtual teams, who show a large increase in productivity with these support systems.

Why are efficient reward systems effective?

One of the main benefits of hierarchical leadership is that the manager himself acts as a motivator. Whilst there are a number of styles you might motivate employees to work faster or harder, each revolves around the idea that the staff are spurred on by the manager him or herself. As we saw in the last article, the influence a leader has on his team is sorely diminished when facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are lost. Because of this, virtual employees can suffer from a lack trust, fear or empathy in their managers.

How can we wrestle this influence back? Well, one simple way is to provide a different incentive to work. This is why Hoch and Kozlowski found that better reward systems work especially well in virtual teams. Without the glare of the manager on your back, you have less incentive to slave away on that report or properly coordinate with colleagues. What an effective reward system does is replace that managers stare. It gives a new and exciting reason to work hard. How you implement such a system is another conversation altogether, but in essence make sure your performance reviews and incentives are fair for both virtual and local teams.

Effective communication systems: create humanity in the conversation

Being a better communicator can mean a lot of different things. On one level, how detailed and clear the instructions are to a team member make a huge amount of difference. A lot of lost productivity in a virtual team is down to miscommunication. As a manager, it is important to state clearly what you want done and when you want it done by. The urgency or importance of projects are often lost in e-mail or chat conversations, and one way to naturally fix this is to pick up the phone and directly talk to the employee.

virtual team leadership

On another level, communication and the sharing of knowledge is implicit in motivating an individual in the way we discussed before. Sharing a smile can induce trust and empathy with an employee, leading to positive motivation whilst a stern frown can motivate through fear. Does a positively or sternly worded email have the same effect? Hardly.

This means that the channels you use are incredibly important for the outcome of the work. A Kellogg and Stanford study illustrates this principle. In a mock task where two virtual teams must come to a complex business agreement around ⅓ of participants don’t reach an agreement at all. When teams do the task locally, almost 100% of teams reach an agreement. When researchers placed a small, passport sized photograph of their colleagues in the corner of participants laptops, virtual teams agreement levels shot up to 96%. Therefore video conferencing is incredibly important for effective remote working. Currently video conferencing tools for business, like those provided by UC&C, are not widespread in the marketplace (although this is set to change). As a manager, simply checking in on your team with a short video conference in the morning can work wonders to your teams productivity.

John Cousins

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