Engaging and Rebooting Remote Teams

The Reality: 50% of the professional services workforce will likely stay virtual or participate in periodic visits to an office (if there is one). Companies continue to hire, and professionals will continue to change jobs as opportunities present themselves.

The Challenge: As teams add and subtract members, building trust and psychological safety within the teams will become elusive. Meetings will be focused on projects, processes, or deliverables (the “what” we do at work). But without attending to the people and the team agreements (the “how” we work), the individuals work in a vacuum.

The Risk: Team members don’t feel connected, there is no comradery, there is little collaboration, and building trust doesn’t happen. The outcome is companies are paying employees who are actively disengaged, disconnected, and potentially dealing with apathy or exiting.

Developing High-Functioning Teams

Building a great team does not just happen. It is built by the leaders and team members. Like any good sports team, the team members are challenged, trained, and fine-tuned on the field. Team members can become stronger together and take organizations to whole new levels when given the time and space to work on how they will work together.

With a dedicated team champion (internal or external to the organization), teams can resolve old issues, address current challenges and evolve into high functioning teams as a unified force. Focus on the following lineup in your team development conversations.

It’s Not What We Do, But Why We Do It and How We Treat Each Other In the Process

  • Purpose – Gain greater clarity, coherence, and consistency around priorities. What is the “why” or purpose of the team?
  • Psychology –  Developing a climate of psychological safety can be difficult if you are in a stage where the team trust and accountability are low. Consider a reboot — a meeting to redesign the team agreement. Team members learn to have open dialogue, share concerns and fears, and work through constructive challenges.
  • Conflict –Embrace and use conflict constructively so that the collective intelligence forges new ways of identifying and addressing issues. Let everyone be heard, and don’t make anyone “wrong.” Remember this Shakespeare line from Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
  • Contribution – Understand and value all contributions from each member so each player can play to their strengths.
  • Exemplify – Model the culture and philosophy of the company brand and reputation in your behavior, not just your words. If you promote work-life balance, don’t expect people to respond to emails at 10 pm unless there is an expressed agreement to do that for a special situation.
  • Communicate – Improve the effectiveness of communication, both between team members and external stakeholders. When teams say they have “communication problems,” they usually mean that certain people are not getting information in a timely way. Conduct a communications audit with your team. What information do you get now? What is useful or not useful? What else do you need? And how will you use that information? This exercise can help you see where you need to fortify information sharing.
  • Resilience – Become more resilient to setbacks by helping your team members keep the proper perspective on their work and their lives. Create venues for people to connect outside the work topic (yes, even with remote work). Teams that spend time socializing together will stay together through rough times.

Need a Reboot? Consider These Steps:

1. Set aside 4 to 8 hours to work on how the team works. This can be in 2-hour or half-day sprints. Any less than this, and you won’t be able to build a strong foundation for the team.

2. Define (or redefine) the purpose of your team. Ask each team member to submit their definition of the team’s purpose (a survey tool can provide anonymity). Then take all those statements and bring them to the team to weave these contributions together. Go for a single statement.

3. Define what is expected of team members when they are on this team. Consider this as part of an onboarding document: This is how we work. Are you highly responsive? Yes. Is that a 1-hour response time, a 3-hour response time, or a day? Are you a formal team that follows a hierarchical protocol or an informal team that talks to who you want when you want to? Do you spend time socializing in meetings, or is it mostly just business? Developing this understanding helps manage the unspoken ways you work.

4. Start verbalizing and recording team agreements. Take any list of phrases to begin: Meeting start times, day start times, cussing, proofing your work, sharing documents, keeping things confidential, getting fired, getting hired, accountability, interrupting each other, etc. The key here is that you can have a conversation about it when you make a team agreement when someone doesn’t follow it.

5. Reinforce the agreements by repeating them in meetings. It is great to make them, but it is essential that leaders make sure they are followed. You want to live by them and gently call out those who are not following them. It takes time to learn any new game. Set the rules and get your team practicing for a new reboot.

Invest in your team’s development. Set time aside each month to help the team learn and grow together, especially now that the working landscape is fluid.

How will you know it works? You might hear these comments:

  • Communication is much better; It feels good to be talking about this [the infighting]
  • So much more aware of how to handle our disagreements
  • Reconnected with why I work here
  • It reminded me of the joy in my work
  • Feel more coordinated in how we navigate as a team

Written by:
Freddi Donner
Leadership & Management



Media Type:

Federal Projects Require a Hybrid of Agile and Traditional Project Management
Highlights from the ASMC PDI 2021