Remote teaming is not a new concept but physical distancing restrictions have forced many project managers who had never previously worked with teams of dispersed team members to quickly adapt. While this transition might create a few hiccups with a well established team it will much more challenging when we are working with teams whose members have never worked together. In such situations, the forming, storming and norming phases can take much longer than it was with the “old normal” but your key stakeholders are unlikely to accept prolonged delays in the team becoming productive.
Culture is defined by all of the individuals who make up the team but what you do as their leader will heavily influence how team development goes.
And this starts with an effective kick-off meeting. If you had run kick-off meetings as a mere formality before, their importance is much greater now.
An effective kick-off meeting helps by:
- Giving each team member a good understanding of the purpose behind the project. It can also be an opportunity for them to ask questions to help them understand how the project’s purpose can connect with their own. Remember that working on activities in an isolated manner without having a good idea of why we are doing this will reduce intrinsic motivation.
- Providing a chance for team members to get to know one another. Ice breakers are one way to do this, but a kick-off meeting is also a good chance to ask everyone to share their fears, uncertainties, doubts and assumptions about the project. This sharing will be a good first step towards building psychological safety within the team.
- Helping the team to develop an initial set of working agreements. Remote work amplifies misunderstandings and missed perceptions. Making decisions such as when to meet, how they will keep you in the loop as to what is going on, how they will work through interpersonal issues will be dealt with and how feedback will be provided won’t eliminate conflicts but it will provide the team with some self-defined guardrails to guide them.
- Learning each team member’s development objectives. Well-run projects provide a great opportunity for personal growth and if you have some idea of what each of your team members is interested in learning, then you can help them by aligning project activities with these learning goals.
- Modeling behaviors you expect other team members to practice. This means focusing more intently on what is being said than you might have with an in-person meeting. Put your phone away and close all other applications on your computer – be mindful, and be present.
- Walking team members through the use of the normal communication tools including appropriate usage and what should be used for communicating in which tool.
Building a new virtual team won’t involve doing something radically different or new compared to what you would have done with a new in-person team, but you will need to focus more effort on certain activities.