Good team working when leading dispersed lives doesn’t have to be difficult. However, there are some fundamentals that need to be in place and reinforced. Use these traits to assess the ‘health’ of your team. Also, where you should be focusing your leadership attention.

1. Know the direction they are going in and why they are going there.

When challenges are faced by an organisation, almost immediately there is a personal and performance anxiety arising in the team. Reinforcing or adapting the team vision and purpose brings reassurance and focus. Creating these from scratch brings strength and unity. When uncertainty surrounds a team they need something to hold onto or they will become part of that uncertainty. Your role as the leader is to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the organisation and regularly ‘altering the sails of the boat’, to keep the team focused and on track.

2. Clear sense of trust in each other

In dispersed environments, strong teams depend, use and support each other, every day. For this to happen they need to trust each other personally and professionally. The team might be the only place of ‘safety’ they have in the organisation. Being able to share their concerns and fears without being judged is vital. Asking for whatever support they need from each other without being mocked is critical. Free expression of opinion without being dismissed is needed in every team. Trust is at the heart of all team relationships and performance. Where there is no trust, there will be poor communication, collaboration and transparency. The team will stop being a team.

Leadership here is about attending to trust issues and creating building blocks of psychological safety WITH the team. Establishing regular opportunities and routes for sharing. This includes you demonstrating vulnerability and openness. Additionally, leadership vulnerability demonstrates empathy with employees.

3. Agreed approaches to dispersed communication

A common trait of performing teams is that they have clear and agreed communication routes. The team will use communication routes that best serve the needs of them and their stakeholders. They will use a variety of communication approaches and tools. Dispersed and virtual working often presents big challenges around communication. A common default is for the primary approach to communication being through email, with all its risks and impacts. Performing teams use a variety of virtual communication and collaboration platforms available to them. They will utilise these platforms for formal and informal communications.

Leaders encourage the team to discuss how they want and need to communicate internally and externally. They too demonstrate good practice around communication. Additionally, effective leaders will be providing feedback to team members on team communication.

4. Regular opportunities to meet when in dispersed working

It is very easy with virtual and dispersed working for individual team members to exist in their own ‘bubbles’. Yet as humans we are social beings who need and seek connection with others. Togetherness is not a luxury for a team, it’s a necessity. A productive trait for virtual teams is where there are frequent formal and informal meetings as a team and between members. Communication during dispersed working needs to replicate the levels achieved before it. If there are monthly team meetings, they happen virtually. If we work together as pairs or threes on a piece of work, we meet virtually to make it happen. Similarly, opportunities for virtual social gatherings are created. How much of your work is interspersed with conversation, fun, support, feedback and jokes? Gathering at lunchtime or breaks and chewing things over.

The leader’s role is to create awareness for a range of meetings to happen within the team. Urging members to set them up, be integral members and utilise time to maintain a presence with each other. The leader isn’t setting these meetings up, but setting the expectation that they will happen. Similarly, getting the team to recognise the need to meet with each other, for their own productivity and mental health. Creating camaraderie amongst team members.

5. A leader with a coaching mindset and behaviours

It’s not all about the team’s traits. In dispersed environments, the directive leader soon becomes a micromanager. Successful teams whether physically present or virtual have a leader who at heart brings the best out of others. They adopt an inclusive approach bringing coaching style to their communication, language and behaviours. Development, performance management, motivation and engagement are achieved through dialogue, exploration and using team expertise. There is a co-creation between leader and employees for team growth and performance.

Many effective leaders in a virtual environment adopt a servant leadership approach. Recognising that they can’t control the team. So their role is to ensure all of their team have what they need to deliver. They use coaching language and behaviours, helping to co-create the team’s growth and performance.

6. Maintaining an approach to performance management.

Performance management (PM) often takes a back seat in challenging times. Yet a stand out trait in performing teams is that PM is at the heart of teamwork. This is because the leader makes PM an everyday activity. Through their language, communication and leadership styles PM becomes natural part of the leader’s stance. Every day they ‘keep their fingers on the pulse’ of PM. Continually rewarding and amending individuals performance on an ongoing basis. This is an overt activity and the team are aware of it, so it enables more free and powerful daily conversations.  So, when it comes to formal 121s, the leader already knows where performance is, so this conversation becomes more personal and developmental for the employee.

7. Involved in problem-solving and solution-finding

There is a natural tendency with dispersed working for employees to become very insular in their thinking. They have no one physically around them to bounce ideas off. Successful teams recognise the need to create opportunities to utilise each other’s skills. Meeting time is uses the input of others. Team creativity is achieved through virtual collaboration and virtual tools. Team members offer their time to support their colleagues. These teams recognise the importance of the collective good.

Similarly, the leader overtly encourages collaboration, expressing expectations that the team initiate and take part in it. Creating awareness in the team that they need to work with each other to achieve outcomes for the team.

Nick Howell works with leaders and teams to bring shifts in behaviours and mindsets to improve team performance. Using development, coaching, facilitation, current thinking and best practice he looks to transform the nature of teams and leadership. The team not working as you need them too? Stuck in how to develop the team? Struggling to assert yourself as a leader? Get in touch today for a FREE chat and see where Abintus might be able to support you.