Managing people at a distance has a ‘reputation’ for being tricky, and for being more likely to fail than when managing face-to-face. Yet, we know that managing at a distance is a common, often productive experience in many organisations.
Research shows at least three key factors determine the success of teams who work apart from each other: team dynamics, trust and collaboration and team communication. This is the first of 3 posts where we provide top tips to help leaders and managers – and also team members – to think about what really matters when a team is not collocated. Managing well at a distance is not about luck – it’s about paying attention to things we know are important to team effectiveness.
So, what of team dynamics, our first key area? Here are four top-tips which psychological research has shown can make a big difference:
1. Agree what ‘good’ looks like so that it is reflected within individual and team goals and objectives. Also, clearly link these to your organisation’s objectives and plans
2. Foster team identity, or ‘brand’ to manage feelings of isolation, promote visibility and provide a sense of unity and purpose. This helps new team members, other teams and customers to ‘get’ what the team is about
3. Promote team relationships by providing opportunities to share information about culture and people’s personal backgrounds. Be proactive: encourage pairs or small groups of members to complete short tasks together and tell the whole team about it
4. Recruit team members who have the core strengths the team needs. Strengths are what people are good. They feel effortless to use. People like using them and have often gained skills to support their strengths. By using the tips above you will develop an insight into the strengths that the team needs for collaborating when apart.
Look familiar? These are all aspects of good management wherever it takes place. Taking a step back and considering these may reduce anxiety about managing people you can’t see. Such actions also encourage and motivate managers and their teams prior to increasing the amount of time that they work apart.
What do people think? What other aspects of team dynamics do you think are most powerful for people that work apart?
Marjorie Raymond, Senior Assocate AWA