4 Pitfalls of Remote Teams- What to Watch For

Last Updated Jan 5, 2011 10:13 AM EST

One of the biggest challenges for managers of remote teams is striking the balance between micro-managing (trying to see and know everything that's happening at every moment) and not monitoring the team enough (and getting blindsided when things go wrong). How do you know what to look for?

According to the new book, "Virtual Team Success- a Practical Guide for Working and Leading From a Distance", there are four common pitfalls virtual teams often stumble into. If you know what to watch for, you can avoid many of the most common problems.

Darleen DeRosa and Richard Lepsinger have written a very solid book full of practical tips, based on research from over 100 virtual and remote teams, mostly in big tech companies like Google. Their research shows that 27 percent of teams weren't producing at an acceptable level ( a number I find optimistic, but then I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy).

The four common pitfalls of remote and virtual teams are:

  1. Lack of clear goals, direction or priorities-- Because it's tougher to communicate with and inform team members who are geographically dispersed, it's often difficult to keep all team members focused on the same goals, especially over time. Another reason for this is that many teams are comprised of people from different functions or disciplines, and their paychecks often come from someone other than you.
  2. Lack of clear roles among team members-- In virtual teams, it's especially important for team members to clearly understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members. One common challenge is that people know their own role, and they know your role, they don't know or trust the other team members. What are you doing about that?
  3. Lack of cooperation and trust-- Because there's a lack of face-to-face contact inherent in virtual teamwork,the process of establishing trust and good working relationships that lead to group cooperation can be arduous. Over time, this lack of collaboration can lead to a lack of trust amongst team members which can derail projects and productivity.
  4. Lack of engagement-- With virtual teams, people can easily become bored and "check out" because the dynamic personal interaction that energizes most people diminishes while the number of distractions grows. This isn't some soft and mushy HR problem, it's the leading cause of turnover with all its attendant costs and hassles.
As Derosa and Lepinger point out in the book, you need to watch out for all of these pitfalls and it's easier to monitor them as you go than to suddenly be forced to wonder what's going on.

Think about using a telescope to scan the horizon instead of a microscope to see what went wrong.

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