Quite some time ago, I began thinking about how best to help senior, and generally very busy managers improve their communications abilities when running or working in virtual team environments. These people usually come from a world where they are assumed to know everything, and yet rarely have the time to learn new skills, or often even reflect on how well their current approach fits with their current role. In this reflection I realised that coaching should be the answer to many leaders needs, but just what do they need.
Too Busy To Learn
Most managers in senior roles today began their careers in a world where projects were executed with a co-located team. They learned their communication techniques from a combination of personal experience and observation of the styles of their predecessors, all of who came from an even more traditional, and generally more command and control world. As such, it is of little surprise that these current leaders struggle to manage people they can’t see, people who are often just voices on a telephone, or line items on a project personnel list.
So, I considered the usual suspects as far as how to help these managers. I considered training courses, both short intense courses and longer training with intervals between units, these can be OK to address a specific need, but, in my experience, they tend to be considered as “fit and forget” exercises, where the attendees leave the course and everyone thinks they now know it all. This is fine for technical training, not so good for interpersonal skills which need continual development and practice. I considered training manuals and online courses, manuals don’t get read and online courses are hardly helpful if the participant is struggling to deal with a virtual world in the first place. All of these forms of training have one additional problem, the audience they are aimed at are already so busy, where will they find the time to attend or participate in training…
Coaching Can Be The Answer
So, as an alternate, I am suggesting this approach. Give your senior managers a communications coach, someone who can sit with them from time to time and help then navigate the labyrinths of communicating with personnel with generational, cultural and just plain temporal differences from themselves. This coach need not be a highly expensive external coach, although for many, finding an external coach can be better than an internal one as it removes some of the corporate group think and internalize that can occur.
The coach needs to be someone who can help the manager, in an ongoing way, learn to leverage all of their experience and skill to get the best out of their virtual team. I suspect there are many potential coaches in many organisations and outside, it is just a case of recognising the benefits, seeking them out and suggesting the role to them. If internal, they may be relatively senior or very junior employees, but the thing they need to have is an understanding of virtual teams and an ability to help others learn to function in the changed world in which they find themselves.
A good coach should provide an emotionally safe, reflective environment where the person being coached can spend time reviewing their experiences, reflecting not he outcomes of their previous actions and working to build a greater ability for communication. The coach also needs to have the ability to answer questions but to do so only as a last resort, they need to guild the person they are coaching to find their own answers in their own way.
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Do you have any experiences with either being coached or coaching in project teams you have been a part of that you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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