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15 Tips for Leading Productive Virtual Teams

15 tips for leading productive virtual teams start with being an empathetic, compassionate leader.


When people are or feel isolated, strong leaders step up efforts to make team members feel important and valued. Here are some tips, tools and ideas to help you lead productive virtual teams.

1) Establish clear objectives with specific deliverables and / or measurements

  • Given the current reality, what needs to change?

  • What can we stop doing?

  • What do we need to start doing?

  • What needs to stay the same?

  • What is the vision for the group? How would this group like to be remembered?

  • What is the mission? What must the team do every day to ensure vision success?

  • How does what the team accomplishes contribute to the big picture?

  • How do our company and group values impact current decisions?

  • Help your team feel proud of their contributions and of the company.

2) Establish communication channels and expectations

Determine which communication channels are best for your group for different types of communication. Have a discussion about when each of the following should be used:

  • Personal call

  • email

  • Video conference

  • Text

  • Chat

Also discuss how often communication should happen.

Consider setting up a private Facebook group for relationship building. Team members can share fun things to do, website resources, pictures, book reviews and more. This becomes your virtual hang out place.

3) Engage team in defining ground rules

  • Make ground rules behavioral. Identify both acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

  • Talk about how to deliver feedback appropriately. Positive feedback reinforces good behavior. Remember to deliver constructive feedback privately.

  • Discuss how ground rules will be enforced.

4) Use project management tools to ensure visibility and accountability

  • Set up systems to track progress

  • Ensure specific responsibilities and ownership are identified

  • Update regularly (daily, weekly, etc. as appropriate)

  • Examples: Trello, Basecamp, etc.

5) Plan for mutual accountability

According to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Individuals have to be willing to call each other on behavioral issues because when they fail to provide peers with constructive feedback, they are letting them down personally”. Discuss what the team is accountable for contributing to the organization. Identify specific deliverables for the team. Gain agreement on the who, what, when, measurement issues. Also discuss how to discuss issues when expectations are not met. Stress that holding one’s self and others accountable for agreed upon results is a way of demonstrating respect.

6) Create opportunities to strengthen team member relationships

Make sure team members understand one another’s strengths and abilities. Some easy ways to help everyone appreciate

  • Share DISC profiles

  • Create a composite of your team’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 top five strengths

  • Share bios including specific skills, experiences, talents

  • Share pictures

  • Identify, respect and honor cultural differences. Share websites, books, recipes, etc.

7) Be a great listener

People want to be heard and understood. And sometimes, they don’t want you to provide a solution. Sometimes they just want you to listen. Demonstrate great listening skills by asking follow up questions. Here are some great tips to be a great listener.

8) Be available

In addition to your weekly one-on-one meetings, be available to answer questions, provide support, act as a sounding board. Let your team know how you prefer to be contacted: email? Voice mail? Text? Slack? Then commit to how soon you will respond. Practice the 24 hour rule: respond within 24 hours.

9) Practice The V Factor

Most people want two things every day at work. They want to add value and be valued.

Adding value…

Identify how each individual can add value. What skills and abilities are they using now to add value? Can you tap into these skills to enable them to add more value? Ask questions to identify what skills and abilities they have and enjoy using that they are not currently using at work. How could you structure assignments to use those talents?

Being valued…

Ask questions to determine how each team member likes to be recognized. Public kudos are not necessarily appreciated by everyone! A simple comment, Starbucks gift card, an e thank you card, sharing successes with the group. Find out what each team member appreciates.

10) Get personal

Get to know your players! Ask questions to show you care. Ask about interests, hobbies, families. Seek to understand what motivates each direct report. Here is a quick read with questions you can use to help you identify motivators.

11) Demonstrate compassion for each individual on the team

Set up weekly one-on-one time with each direct report. Begin your meeting on a personal note. Sincerely inquire about how things are going with things that are important outside of work. Demonstrate your humanity. Acknowledge that the lives your direct reports live outside of work is important, valuable. And be sure to thank them for the contributions they make on a daily basis.

12) Run interference for your team

Have the team identify productivity roadblocks that get in the way of hitting deadlines and milestones. Make it your job to open doors, provide resources, make connections, develop skills, etc.

13) Set up opportunities for collaboration

Be strategic about assigning tasks so that you are creating opportunities for collaboration between specific individuals and/or groups. Pair up a very experienced member with someone inexperienced so she can show the way. Have your resident geek help the techno-phobe.

14) Discuss how decisions will be made

What types of decisions must be made by you? …run by you? What types of decisions can be made by the group? Check out this blog for more information on problem solving and decision making.

15) Celebrate successes and milestones

  • For the team, sub groups and individuals

  • Provide ample, meaningful, sincere recognition


More tools for virtual success:

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