Leadership_IconWarwick Business School invited me to talk about leading teams. In the Q&A session, I was asked to share my thinking on managing remote teams and overcoming the challenges of distance, culture, time zones and time pressures.

In my view, the fundamentals of leading teams remain the same – whether team members are remote or not.

Set the Bearing

As leaders, we need to provide the direction of travel for our teams. We don’t need to dictate exactly what the final destination might be and certainly not the ‘how to’. With the point on the compass set, our people need to decide for themselves, shaping the ‘what’ and the how things happen. Leading remote teams isn’t different. Set the bearing and take corrective action as the process unfolds but micro management isn’t needed – just frequent reinforcement of the direction of travel and the milestones along the way.

Create Engagement

Most organisations have been making special efforts in attempts to raise the levels of staff engagement for over twenty years. But at its simplest, engaging people means paying them attention. It also means including them in decision-making at every opportunity and recognising and rewarding them. When I have a voice, I feel engaged, when it is clear that my opinion matters, I am engaged, and when I am trusted and supported, I am engaged. So engaging members of remote teams can be achieved equally successfully by the same token. Regardless of the medium of communication – face-to-face, conference calls or video-conferencing, the principles remain the same. See Caroline Allen’s article this month on ‘Engaging Meetings’ for further ideas in this area.

Establish Alignment

The best team in the world will be ineffective if the work it is doing is not aligned with the teams around it.When we all have the same direction of travel, we have alignment. But we need alignment with what is going on outside the team as well as alignment within and across the team. By ensuring that what we are doing is aligned with what other teams are doing we are establishing a connected, ‘whole system’ approach to our work. Long-term success comes from operating in a connected way – not in isolation. Members of remote teams may have different groups and teams around them so there is a need for each member to take personal responsibility to ensure that their respective local teams are aligned.

So whether your team sits together next door or is far flung across the globe, set the bearing, create engagement and establish alignment.