Last Updated Oct 26, 2010 2:28 PM EDT
Wally Bock is the co-author of "Ruthless Focus- how to use key core strategies to grow your business". He's also the principal at 3-star Leadership. I recently spoke to him about the book and how managers can maintain their, and their teams, focus.
What are the challenges in keeping remote teams "ruthlessly focused"?
The core challenges are the same as they are for any manager. That's because they're internal. You have to know what the important goal is and what you need to reach it. You have to turn that into a simple statement that people will remember and act on. You have to repeat the message "always and everywhere," far beyond the point where you're sick of it. And, oh yeah, you need to live it, too.
But if you're managing a remote team, it's way too easy to let technology take the place of human touch and human talk. That's dangerous. Most managers I've seen who do this well have to make a conscious effort to connect with their people on a human level and a conscious effort to repeat the message, at least until it becomes habit.
What happens if you don't?
In the worst case, you have everybody doing their own thing. In the more common case, you lose productivity and time because people make well-intentioned choices that are slightly off-target. The usual managerial response is to treat this as an individual supervision/communication issue. That may be right, but if it's happening with everyone, you need to figure out if the problem is that there's no clear focus.
The irony is that being out of focus can be more damaging and harder to spot in a remote team than it is in a team that's physically in the same place. It's more damaging because more team members will either make poor choices without checking in or, just as bad, check in before making any choice.
What are the practical behaviors a manager/leader needs to exhibit when trying to herd the cats?
That's easy. It's not herding. Herding implies that you're exercising some control over those danged cats. But that's not reality. The cats will make wise choices if they know what's important and if it's in their interest to cooperate. So the people who I've observed that are good at managing remote teams communicate more and manage less.
They communicate more by sharing the message and checking for understanding.They incorporate the message of what's important and what's not in almost every communication.
Here's a case in point: I have a client with 7 team members. In our first session he described how his teams were out of control and he needed to find a way to them to get them to work better. He said, "I really should meet with them every week" at least half a dozen times.
Finally, I said, "Don, why don't you meet with every team every week?" I intended it as a reaction to his comments. But he took it as a suggestion. "Wow," what a great idea!" My point is that most of the managers I coach on issues like this know what they need to do. They need to touch base more with their team members.
They need to share the message more. They need to have more meetings or review sessions. They need to make sure the meeting notes get out right away. Whatever it is, they know what needs to be done. It's most often a case of the urgent driving out the important. My suggestion: don't wait for a coach to tell you. Take your own advice.
Listen to Wally Bock in his own voice on The Cranky Middle Manager Show podcast interview.