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Five ways to better lead virtual teams

Leading virtually is becoming an ever-intriguing topic in our technologically adept world. Managers and CEOs are now able to communicate with teams through a host of interactive tools that range from texting to videophones, keeping tabs on progress and morale in spite of never meeting face-to-face. With more and more people telecommuting and/or managing groups across borders and seas, let's take a look at some resources that bring out the best in long distance leaders.

1. Technology

First off, it's important to have a strong handle on the technologies that facilitate long distance leading. From Skype to OOVOO, programs that offer free video chats make no frills face time as easy as turning your laptop on. Programs like Webex make video conferencing relatively inexpensive while adding corporate bells and whistles to the general chat features, providing teams opportunities to review reports, invite multiple parties, and address distinct documents all through a single program. Although commonplace, smart phones keep emails and texting in our back pockets, and we always have the old telephone to share vital info with our colleagues over seas.

2. Keep it simple

While there are hordes of tools, software packages, and online features that make long distance exchanges easy, more may not always be better. As mentioned in this podcast from the Center for Creative Leadership, distance team members may struggle with the procedures and practices that new technologies demand. Establishing ground rules up front may assist a distance team in buying into how the group will communicate. For example, suggesting that the team use texting and weekly Skype discussions to advance ideas and stay in touch may help everyone to best understand and employ the technology chosen while minimizing communication efforts so that team members don't get bogged down.

3. Tips

Researchers and practitioners have been working to distill the essential tips of leading through distance technologies for years. While resources seem readily available, the 2008 book Leadership at a Distance: Research in Technologically-Supported Work, the 2010 article Leading Effectively from a Distance: Six Things Managers Need to Know, and the 2003 piece Leading from a Distance: The Four Qualities of Good Distance Leaders all offer thought provoking insights. The bottom line, use the technology available to maintain communication, create shared goals, draw on individual strengths, motivate by empowering and respecting the group, and celebrate achievements.

4. Remember the basics

In some ways, leadership is leadership. Don't overcomplicate the process of leading through distance, as leaders have overcome these hurdles from thousands of years. In fact, today's technologies make an age-old issue seem new and fresh, but what could Alexander have accomplished with the aide of Skype. What was once achieved with parchment and codes, courier and smoke signals, can now be done face-to-face across any distance. The leadership principles associated with strong leadership generally don't change even when the processes of implementing those principles do.

5. Who are you leading

As the piece Long-Distance Moms suggests, not all distance leading is between manager and co-worker. The widely publicized use of technology in Obama's presidential campaign is additional fodder for how one can lead across vast distances through the use of technology without being assigned to a multi-national corporate team. With personalized communication campaigns targeting texting, email, and social media, leaders from various sectors can now keep tabs on opinions, desires, and interests of followers. Additionally, leaders can convey powerful and consistent messages through a variety of online tools that work to motivate and inspire followers from around the globe. Gaining insight into how to use such tools, while also recognizing who you're trying to impact is essential, but whether you're a sports coach, artist, or social activist, leading vast numbers across distances has never been easier. While the mom texting I love you to her son sends a much different message than the Politician texting I love you to her constituents, both have proven to be equally effective.

Let us know how you lead across borders, and what applications you've become accustomed to using. We enjoy the comments and insights, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on how distance leading is continually advancing, and what more we should know about the topic.

Have idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch at info@menoconsulting.com or visit us at Meno Consulting.  

By Joe Frontiera  |  August 2, 2010; 9:42 AM ET  | Category:  Communication skills , Leadership , Leadership skills , Technology Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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