The Four Top Boosters of Remote Team Performance

Last Updated Jun 3, 2011 4:21 PM EDT

Being a team or project manager is no picnic, and being the manager of a remote team doesn't make things any easier. Of course, it doesn't have to make things as much harder as it sometimes seems. Managing your team's performance level and keeping things humming takes a little extra work and some different approaches when they're not with you all the time.

There is a growing list of books on the topic of managing remote teams, and one of my favorites is "Virtual Team Success- A Practical Guide For Working and Leading From a Distance" by Darleen Derosa. In it, she outlines the four factors that really boost your teams performance:

  1. Provide coaching and support. Basically, there are two kinds of coaching. "On the spot" coaching usually involves catching someone doing something (right or wrong) and helping them adapt their performance or recognize their accomplishments. The other is "ongoing coaching" which is more aimed at long term goals. It's difficult to catch people doing something if you never observe it. That's why frequently scheduled check-ins are so critical. You can't give feedback if you don't have anything to report on.
  2. Gain your team's commitment. Whether you're working remotely or all in the same cube farm there are four ways to get people on board: rational persuasion, inspirational appeals, consultation and collaboration. The first two require the ability to communicate often and effectively. The other two require your people to be able to trust and work with each other in a virtuous cycle of trust, proof and reinforcement.
  3. Recognize the team members' contributions. Many leaders believe it's difficult to recognize virtual teams and the individual members because it's not easy to determine who contributed what to the effort. But when people work remotely they often feel isolated from their boss, so recognition lets them know their effort isn't just going into the void, and it also validates what they do with their teammates. Try using virtual ceremonies and events to celebrate accomplishments. Publish the good news in the newsletter or on the intranet. Choose rewards that have value to both remote workers and those at headquarters so charges of favoritism don't crop up.
  4. Hold the team accountable. With the freedom to work remotely or on the road comes the responsibility to get the work done. Derosa has an acronym (and what good consultant/author doesn't?) for team accountability. It's ATC: Action, Timetable, Checkpoints. What needs to be done, by when and how will we know. Meet all those and the employee is doing fine. If one of those is missed, what can you and your employees do about it. And remember, a little feedback and coaching might have helped avoid any problems in the first place.
While there's nothing radical in these four "performance boosters", as managers we have to ask ourselves how much attention we pay to them and how often do we take the time to analyze how well we're doing as leaders and those responsible for the performance of others.

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photo by flickr user Diorama Sky CC 2.0