Leading Virtual Teams
The perils of overdue action items! They eat away at your budget and schedule.
Project managers who follow the good practice of tracking and closing action items may find this difficult to do remotely. It takes more effort and it’s harder to engender team-driven accountability without the peer pressure, normally associated with social interactions. It’s even harder if the PM doesn’t have a method for monitoring and controlling action items.
This month, we continue our exploration of virtual project leadership. Here are some tips for identifying, tracking and closing project action items in a virtual world, assuming PMs already use a tracking system for action items.
Closing action items begins with accountability. Improve your PM’s leadership skills in the area of accountability. Very often, action items don’t get closed on time due to a lack of accountability in the team, and this can be traced to how the leader behaves. The team should hear and see the leader model accountability for him/herself and others. When leadership takes ownership for an action item, and admits (without blaming others or circumstances) that it didn’t get done, the PM sets an environment where it’s safe to be transparent about missing deadlines and asking for help. The PM needs to be explicit in holding team members accountable. Ask those who are tardy what support or resource is needed to get an action item closed. Give recognition to those who close on time. Set up an early warning system for those who know they may be late, so they can get help early.
Instil a sense of caring. Teach PMs to ask about team members’ well-being, and in particular, about their work/life experience working remotely. Coach them to ask about their plans, problems and aspirations. For some team members, virtual work is less stressful, less costly and provides more autonomy. For others, it may result in opposite outcomes. In the latter case, find out and help with a remedy if you can. Team members who are shown care, tend to work more effectively with and for their PMs. (Lominger, 2010)1. This can be a boost to closing action items. In most instances, when action items are closed on time—and meet the performance standard—the team is actively involved in project control. Encourage PMs to promote team-based project control through caring.
Teach PMs Effective Virtual Meeting skills. In the virtual world, planning and conducting meetings can be challenging. Ensure your PMs have the basic skills to plan, facilitate and follow up meetings and provide tutorials or coaching on how to succeed leading online meetings. In virtual meetings, some good practices may need to be exaggerated slightly. For example, have all or part of the meeting standing up, use an online timer (visible to everyone) to monitor the agenda timing, or put a walk around break in the middle of the meeting. Consider having two or three short meetings rather than one long one. Keep the action item status visible and dynamic. Promote innovation in good meeting practices so action items are respected.
1 Lominger (2010). For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching. Minneapolis: Lominger International: A Korn/Ferry Company.
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