At first sight, it appears that hot air balloons and virtual teams have a lot in common – you see them on a distance, have a feeling that you not really control them and that they may fail any minute. The good news is that it only appears so. If properly managed, the virtual teams can save costs and boost productivity.

 

Here are five tips that will help you achieve great results:

 

Know your teams

 

Usually the management of virtual teams goes hand in hand with strategic project’s management. The implementation of an ERP system for example, usually involves the management of a few teams of external consultants based around the world plus internal teams of functional and IT experts split between the headquarters, the local offices, etc. Unfortunately none of these teams comes with a user manual. Hence, it is advisable to ask for a short bio of all key team members and pay special attention to their achievements and the trainings they have recently attended. In all cases make sure that the team members have the skills and competences required to successfully complete the project within budget and deadline. If it happens that a significant percentage of team members are under skilled, you may ask for replacement, internal or external training, subject to budgets, deadline, needs, etc.

Organize a few welcoming calls with each team and finally jointly with all teams that are expected to work together. These calls will help you sense any internal conflicts and identify team members who feel insecure, unconfident or lack motivation.  

 

Set clear goals

 

Often it is considered enough to communicate the ultimate goal only. This may easily lead to a disaster, especially if the team leaders are used to receiving clear step -by -step instructions from the senior management. To avoid it, you may set milestones and deadlines asking the team leads what is the best possible way to achieve them. It is a double gain – your team leaders will feel valued and encouraged to share their opinion, and you will receive a list of possible solutions rather than problems.

 

Agree on performance measurement

 

The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are indeed ‘’key’’. Unless it is agreed how the performance will be measured and which indicators will be monitored, it is quite likely that the actual results will deviate significantly from the expected results. Even more, it is not enough to just set up the KPIs, they have to be reviewed regularly and adjusted if needed. To make the things even more complicated, it is not enough to just monitor the KPIs, appropriate action is to be taken in case the targets are not met. Hence, the regular reports are the second ‘’key’’. However, it is as important not to overwhelm your teams with time consuming reports as the team productivity and motivation will go down. The golden rule is to compare the report added value to the time required to prepare the report. If a simple Excel spread sheet is informative enough, then stick to it and let your teams engage with the value adding activities they like so much.

 

Communication

 

Communicate! Do it regularly and don’t even consider to have a call with your remote teams once per month, or even worse, twice per year when you appraise the team leaders. The regular calls build a strong relationship with the manager sitting in the head office on the other end of the world. They will also help you identify and resolve conflicts and fix issues before the damage is done. Also, use the regular calls to praise team achievements as there is hardly anything that motivates a team more than a ‘Well done’’ by a demanding manager.

 

Integrity and team spirit

 

One of the most common demotivation drivers, I have encountered in my practice managing remote teams, is the lack of integrity and team spirit. Imagine a support team on the other end of the world whose team members have never seen the big picture. Instead, they are regularly challenged on performance, as they fail to meet the targets which appear alien and impossible to achieve to them. Do you think you have a motivated team? I don’t believe so. The fixes usually applied in such situations are layoffs, change in management or change of outsourced partners, while there is a much easier and cost efficient solution – show the big picture and how this remote team fits in it. Explain the end to end process, and you may be surprised how many valid questions you will hear. Once the remote team understands the end to end process and feels as a valued part of the company, it will be much easier to work on performance improvements and achieve great results.