Quite some time ago, I started to think about how best to help senior and generally very busy managers improve their communications abilities when running or working in virtual team environments. These leaders usually come from a world where they are assumed to know everything, yet never have the time to learn new skills or even take the time to reflect on how well their current approach fits with their role.
Coaching to recognise trends
Most managers in senior roles today started out in a world where projects were executed with a co-located team, they learnt their communication techniques from a combination of personal experience and observation 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 lines 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 tend to be treated as a “fit and forget” exercise where the attendees leave the course and everyone thinks they now know it all, fine for technical courses, not so good for interpersonal skills which need continual development. 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 people it is aimed at are already so busy, where will they find the time to attend the training…
Coaching for virtual team effectiveness
So, as an alternate, I am suggesting this approach, give your senior managers a access to virtual team coaching, someone who can sit with them from time to time, either face to face or by telephone or video, and help then navigate the labyrinths of communicating with personnel with generational, cultural and just plain temporal differences from themselves. This coach needs to be someone with experience of these virtual team environments and 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 potential coaches in many organisations, it is just a case of seeking them out and suggesting the role to them, they may be relatively senior or very junior employees, they simply need to have an understanding of virtual teams and an ability to help others learn to function in the changed world in which they find themselves.
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