Bringing Remote Teams Together

Published: July 30, 2019

More than ever before, teams don’t share the same space. The challenge of getting everyone aligned is more difficult when face-to-face exchange is limited. Monthly or quarterly check-ins are barely enough to cover the myriad topics that arise between contacts. Often, the result is teammates heading in different directions. They may be running fast and working hard but they are not necessarily in synchrony. Products get sold and services delivered but not at the level that would be possible with full coordination of efforts. Here are some basics for remote teams.

Compensate for the absence of non-verbal communication cues. Phone, text and video exchanges lack important information about mood and attitude. Tone and volume clues get lost or misinterpreted. Check for understanding if something feels off.

Achieve consensus on goals. While there should be many possible paths to the same destination, everyone needs to be clear about the objective of the shared work.

Get clarity on roles. Role confusion is a common symptom of remote teams. Beyond the organizational chart, make sure everyone knows where their work begins, ends and overlaps.

Make conflict productive. Differences of opinion often make teammates less mature. Diversity of perspective is fuel for growth when handled with respect and professionalism.

Establish a cadence of problem-solving. Growth is a succession of solved problems. A culture of accountability enables teammates to struggle, fail and succeed as a team. When something isn’t moving the way it should, join forces to move tension to resolution.

Celebrate collaborations. Helping each other is a greater feat when everyone is scattered across the globe. Shine a light of the partnerships that elevate better outcomes.

Address violations of trust promptly. We’re all human. We manage to hurt each other despite good intentions. Rather than letting broken relationships become normalized, call a timeout and collaborate on a repair. Repaired connections are often stronger than bonds never broken.

Let all voices be heard. Quiet voices get lost in the excitement of innovation. Introverts frequently have the best ideas but get drowned out by their more assertive teammates. Have the patience to invite the whole spectrum of opinion and wait until all voices have been heard before moving ahead. Whether or not your idea is christened is easier to manage when you feel you’ve been heard.

Be aware of who is ahead and behind your pace. The leaders, the laggards and the teammates in between all have a function in driving the pace of the team. Know which function your responsibility is and keep an eye on where everyone else is relative to your pace.

Use change as an opportunity to refuel and refocus. The natural emotion during a transition is depletion. The purpose of dialing down the central nervous system is to recover from the impact of the change. Once the ecosystem of the team has a chance to refuel, a window of opportunity opens to recalibrate direction, talent assignment, leadership and norms.

The recipe for effective teaming is the same whether teammates are in the same room or spread across different geographies. Teams with limited personal contact have to overcompensate for lack of proximity. Healthy relationships learn how to create distance when they’re close and how to create closeness when they’re distant. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in his 1923 book, The Prophet, “But let there be spaces in your togetherness…Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone – even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.