Next month, we welcome Mary Kingsley to our guest BYTE speaker roster. As a preview for her upcoming July 11th BYTE session, Inspiring a Global Virtual Team, read on to discover how you can expand your leadership skills to accomodate a modern workforce.
How do you stretch your virtual leadership skills? The answer is different for every leader because each person starts at a different skill and comfort level with giving feedback, coaching, and preplanning your interactions with team members you cannot see.
Start where you are. “How will I know what’s important to my team members if I can’t see how they decorate their cubicles?” was a mid-2000s question that temporarily stunned me. For this leader, visual cues about family and friends, favorite art, sports, and books was a key part of how he opened with small talk about things someone cared about as a strategy to maintain relationships. He had adopted the pre-global teams best practice of managing by walking around to establish rapport. So, his starting point was to show curiosity with business and general questions to find out what new virtual team members cared about…to build a mental picture instead of the physical picture he was used to.
Speaking of pictures, some business areas bring back the visual connection by welcoming new people by sharing a picture of them in their work environment or having them record a one-minute video…so the office décor is sometimes back in view.
Overcommunicate. If you are an excellent virtual communicator, stay vigilant about touching base with team members and continuing to build relationships. If that’s new to you, expect to feel like you are overcommunicating. And keep doing that. After all, most of the time your teams are distracted because they are working so hard. Your message may not have come through.
Lose the sports metaphors and other local speech habits. If you are from the US, your everyday speech may be peppered with sports metaphors. If you are from another country, be aware of the patterns that fill your words…things you say that do not add meaning or will not be clear to someone from another part of the world.
Accents, we all have them. Expect to listen through accents. People are listening through yours, as well. Is there a particular rhythm, or music even, to the way people from another area speak? Be willing to use your listening strengths and admit your weaknesses.
Allow time for mental translation. Ask whether your pace is good, as some of your global audience will be listening and translating what you are saying in their heads at the same time. And you’re also asking them to respond as quickly as people who don’t have to put out that extra effort. A team of managers in China asked me to send meeting content, especially discussion items, in advance for that very reason. Some team members will not ask, so get curious about what would be most helpful. It’s terribly frustrating to not be able to communicate smoothly.
Embrace video. Video replaces the helplessness of not being able to “see” someone in a virtual environment. Don’t like the way you look on camera? Practice. Get used to it. A team I worked with in India later spoke of the warmth we created by saying, “You let us see you.”
And do extend trust that people are doing the right thing to the best of their knowledge and ability. Are you used to watching over the way people do their work? If that is important to developing talent in your area, use call center technology or video to listen in, or ask people to walk you through their thought process, depending on the role they are in.
Use your head and your heart. Find out about cultural differences, and respect the culture people live in. In some countries, people quickly reveal more personal information than you may expect. In others, they are highly direct and could “feel unfriendly” when they are truly just used to communicating in a different style.
Stay curious about local ways of doing business. In working with a team from the Philippines, I was forewarned that people did not have to respond to me because I lived in another country…that they might be polite and prioritize everything their own bosses asked of them ahead of our learning agenda. By partnering with the HR and leadership team, who made our program part of their performance dashboard, we had great success.
For more tools and tips, stay tuned for our July 11th BYTE session: Inspiring a Global Virtual Team.