Isolation has led many to muse that working remotely may become the norm rather than the exception for many organizations. With this comes continual virtual meetings. However, as weeks of isolation turn into months, we are seeing that effective team leadership via the screen is more complex than simply inviting everyone to a virtual meeting. So, what can we draw from our experiences thus far and what can we learn from others to optimize these “virtual interactions” (i.e. allowing others’ experiences to “sharpen us”)?
A March 26 article in The Economist provided insight by interviewing two tech CEOs with long experiences leading distributed workforces. The results highlight changes in how we should interact virtually for maximum effect. Let’s put some of their insights into practice by looking at how good project management techniques lead to better operations management in these times of screen communication.
Michael Pryor, co-founder of Trello (whose workforce is 80% remote) says that virtual communication must be more transparent and explicit than face-to-face interaction, and that documentation is key. Another Tech leader, Nat Friedman, CEO of the open source project company, GitHub, (which arguably is the world’s biggest distributed enterprise, managing millions of online projects) goes further. Friedman says distributed firms favor wordsmiths, not good speakers as traditional firms do, and good writing demands clear thinking and discipline.
Does it seem strange that virtual verbal communication requires better written discipline? It shouldn’t. When interacting virtually, you can’t be an effective communicator with vague, rambling, ad hoc comments. Crisp written communication, like a succinct, well-conceived verbal message is the product of an organized thought process. Here are some tips you can draw from the field of project management to better manage all virtual interactions.
Agendas are golden. The strength of a written agenda, sent ahead of time, sets the scope of the discussion and limits rambling.
Lead with a consultative, coaching approach. Ask leading questions of participants. It sets a tone of openness. A good leader has the Situational Leadership technique of coaching (when appropriate) mastered.
Break meeting issues down into explicit, bite-size chunks―what project managers call “creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).” All participants will benefit from a leader who applies this technique to framing complex issues virtually.
Make action items SMART. After the team discussion, when conclusions and actions are drawn, the discipline of leaving the meeting with SMART tasks (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) captured in written meeting notes makes expectations both transparent and explicit.
Motivate your team virtually. Finally, motivating your team to action online requires the leader to take a genuine interest in the career development of the participants. Explaining how a task assignment can help build a valuable skillset and passing along helpful topical articles you’ve read are two tips that can convey a sense that you care about people in a holistic way, not just as task machines.
How is this different from effective face-to-face interaction? It isn’t. It’s just that with virtual interaction, the bar has been raised. People listening via computer audio pay more attention to the leader’s content than when they relied on in-person visual cues. Transparency and explicitness are now at a premium. Writing things down before and after using techniques from the project management toolbox benefits any leader or manager who wants to optimize their virtual interactions.
If you want to explicitly learn how to sharpen the iron of your virtual leadership skills and those of your team on projects or in operations, GBMC offers proven results in project management training and coaching. One of our participants in a course last week said it all:
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