Most communication with our clients is remote, even though we are in a “high touch” business. Our customers are spread around the world. Even if our client is in the same city, their time is precious. A video-conference or phone call is usually strongly preferred if it is effective. That is a dramatic shift from twenty years ago when few people had email or mobile phones.
Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics say 22% of Americans work from home. In total, 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work. Almost 100% of our clients are dealing with remote teams as a significant part of their role. The HBR article “How to Collaborate Effectively if Your Team is Remote” by Erica Dhawan and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic identify three types of remote collaboration:
- Physical – place and time
- Operational – team size, bandwidth and skill levels
- Affinity – values, trust, and inter-dependency
The approaches recommended in the HBR article are closely aligned with the message in our book, “Seeing Yourself As Others Do” (SYAOD). They are applicable for all teams, and more important than ever for remote teams. If done well, remote teams may be more effective than local teams … more on that later.
Very clear expectations are essential for all teams. It is important to not be too brief, and then assume that others understand. The Expectation Model in SYAOD lays out the steps to create clarity and accountability. The opportunity for misunderstanding with remote teams is significantly higher than in face-to-face situations. Therefore, clarity of expectations is significantly more important with remote teams.
Clear expectations require respect for the remote team based on the physical, operational and affinity versions of remote communication. The challenge is to be clear without overwhelming team members with communication that is too voluminous or too frequent.
Clarity of how people should communicate within the team is one of those expectation areas. Communication norms are even more important in remote communications. For example, email standards that help significantly include:
- Clear SUBJECT lines.
- Guidance for who is “cc:’d” or “bcc:’d” on emails.
- Opening with a context statement for the email (a partial substitute for body language).
- Clear response time expectations based on type of email.
- Rules of engagement such as, “Pick-up the phone after three exchanges.”
Another key tool for remote communication is using video-conferencing. Our surveys show a wide range of commitment to video-conference use. Those who overcome their initial hesitation to do video-conferencing are strongly committed to use it with their team. “I require all my one-on-one remote meetings to be on video” was the position of one global leader. Done well, it can almost be like face-to-face communication. When structured properly, remote communications is often an effective way to increase participation by more introverted team members.
Our workshop on remote communication is a totally remote video-conference workshop with up to seven participants located around the world. It’s called, “3D Personality on a Flat Screen“. Participants have said it is better than an in-person class because they can see all participants’ faces during the workshop.
Choiceful celebration and acknowledgement of others is also valuable with remote teams. Recognizing special events in other countries, for example, makes the team member feel more like a part of the team. Being respectful of time zone differences as well as national and religious holidays is very helpful. Some teams have have gained stronger connections by sharing pictures of their work environment, and even pictures or videos of their trips to work each day.
Twenty years ago, leaders from global companies typically traveled to the remote locations. They learned many things about their remote team members by being face-to-face, and being in the same environment. Much of the understanding gained was second nature in that setting, for both the leader and the remote team members. A goal for today’s remote team is to intentionally build some of that awareness, to create more understanding and commitment.
“The truth is you don’t need the best people — you need the best teams” (for successful innovation) is the key message from Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Greg Satell. Satell is author of “Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age” where he identifies that innovation does not come from hiring mercurial, innovative, or creative people. It comes from diverse teams who are focused on solving problems in a cooperative way.
The biggest misconception is that innovation is about idea generation. Ideas are relevant if they are focused on solving a problem. I recall a grocery store challenged by a parking lot that was too small. Unable to acquire more space, they looked for ideas including building a parking ramp. The solution they found was increasing the speed of their checkout lines. Faster checkouts reduced the number of people in the store and thus reduced the number of parking spots needed. The idea came from the head cashier … not the architect.
Successful teams are focused on beating the competition by solving problems. Teams that work together cooperatively without a dominating person are the most successful. Satell’s research found that superior innovators were friendly, gracious, good listeners, and showed genuine interest in others. They work with others to try to find the one elusive insight that will crack a tough problem.
There have been a number of studies by Google, MIT, Harvard and others that all found the most important key to success is psychological safety, combined with diversity. A great analogy for this type of cooperation and teamwork are sports teams. They have shared goals, need to work together, and everyone has a role to play. You could think of innovation as the sport of doing business.
The Sport of Business
There is similarity between business teams and sports teams. Sports analogies are often used in business because sports provide simplicity and a clear framework around teamwork and outcomes that are less clear in business settings. Whether one loves sports or not … the analogies are helpful.
Change Masters Academy created The Sport of Business video series which can be very helpful in supporting discussion about how business teams can be more successful. Teams can view the videos and discuss how they can improve teamwork which will allow them to enhance innovation. They can use The Sport of Business videos with topics like:
- Creating Team Culture
- Teamwork and Trust
- The Power of Really Listening
- Keeping Emotional Competence Under Pressure
- Inspiring Others at Half-Time
- Having Fun on the Field
- The Power of Forgiveness
Team dynamics need to be built and maintained to support innovation. The most successful teams have balanced participation, shared commitment to the higher-level goals, and willingness to subordinate their silo incentives to the good of the business.
Actively looking at what is needed for team success requires thoughtful and continued attention. The 50+ videos in The Sport of Business series support ongoing discussion about team dynamics and the individual development each team member needs to optimize the team innovation.