How to manage a happy virtual team

Business Impact:How to manage a happy virtual team
Business Impact:How to manage a happy virtual team

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” said Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi.

What might Gandhi make of today’s virtual world of work?  Would he be concerned about how one could achieve happiness in front of a laptop in the kitchens and bedrooms of our virtual existence in 2023? Perhaps he would begin to address the challenges of the current situation by going back to the basics of human kindness.

Treat your people the way that you would like to be treated yourself. Begin by trusting them in the virtual world.  Forget command and control. Empower your people to own and solve the challenges they face. Be flexible with their working arrangements. Prioritise their wellbeing and be evangelical about their work-life balance. Understand that for some people the virtual world brings with it challenges of loneliness and mental welfare. Care for them. Listen to them. Seek their feedback and act on it. In the virtual world, we must judge our people on results not presenteeism.  We need to measure the former and not the latter. Thoughtful investment in training and development is essential. 

Now is the time to think differently about how we get teams to perform on a day-to-day basis, especially if we want them to smash their goals. At this moment, there is a greater volume and pace of change than we’ve ever seen before. This has resulted in a growing gap between strategy and execution.

To put it another way, companies are spewing out new plans and strategies but failing to persuade and inspire their people to deliver on them. The answer lies in virtual teams focusing on the everyday actions they need to take to make a difference. There is a simple six-step process which can galvanise virtual teams and focus them on what really matters:

Six steps to success

Step one: ask your virtual team if each member is clear on what their goal is and what they should be doing to smash it. I’m pretty sure the answers will be mixed at best. Take time to bring clarity to the team goal. Then organise a 10-week sprint. Get everyone together and motivate and inspire them to smash that goal.

Step two: sit down with each member of the team and be specific about what they need to do to contribute to smashing the goal. Encourage them to act small and often. Encourage them to focus, not be distracted and stick to the task.

Step three: measure progress and make sure everyone can see how they and the team are doing. For this, we devised an app called Nudge. It does two things. It nudges people every day on their phones or PCs to carry out their key individual actions. It also gives the team access to high-quality tracking and insights about how they are getting on.

Step four: encourage everyone to aim for progress rather than perfection. It is consistency we are trying to achieve, not 100 per cent infallibility.

Step five: make everyone accountable and ensure they maintain momentum. Give everyone a peer coach and ensure that at the end of the week everyone on the team has a coaching session to discuss their progress and challenges, as well as their approach to the following week’s effort.

Step six: finally, make sure that each week you celebrate the small successes, and call out the achievements of members of the team, especially where they help colleagues and work in a collaborative way.

Encouraging results

The results, in our pilots with virtual teams, have been hugely encouraging.  The cybersecurity business VCG trialed a 10-week sprint with their sales team.  They aimed to add £3 million GBP in value across their sales pipeline. They cracked that in just over three weeks. By the end of the sprint, they’d added £4.6 million in new sales. What’s more, the process of bringing people together, focusing them and inspiring them, transformed employee engagement. Their engagement scores went from a depressing -69 to a positive +20. In all, they added more than 450 new business opportunities. Most of all, the methodology transformed prioritisation and hugely reduced the distraction of non-value adding activity.

It remains tough to convince some that many of the methods of the past are unfit for the virtual world. However, with the right commitment, a focus on ‘everyday actions’ cannot fail to make game-changing improvements in performance. 

Jeremy Campbell

Jeremy Campbell is the CEO of performance improvement and technology business Black Isle Group, an expert on behavioural science and an executive coach.

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