How to motivate your virtual team and manage performance from a distance.

The first article in this series provided 4 tactics to bond your virtual team. This one looks at how to motivate your virtual team and manage performance from a distance.

Most crucially, the Leader of a virtual team needs to recognise how important they are in creating a virtual team that is bonded and high-functioning. Because virtual team members have less sight of the leader’s moment-by-moment behavior, they cannot read the climate of the team as well as those who are co-located with the leader. The interaction with the leader via communication technology therefore becomes the majority of the symbols seen by the virtual team members which facilitate their ability to bond with the team and identify as a team member.

The costs of failing to keep team members engaged are high. One study estimated the cost of psychological withdrawal at 16.5% of the company’s before-tax income.

While on one hand the leader wants to create a solid team identity and have individuals bonded to the team, they must also be careful not to create an environment that facilitates abdication of personal responsibility and unthinking conformity to the group norms. Negative consequences of this in teams include social loafing, bystander effects, and groupthink.

There are a number of simple tactics leaders can engage in that help to build cohesive, high-functioning virtual teams and counter the forces of deindividuation:

Share information simultaneously with everyone. Otherwise the moment someone discovers that they were told later than others, they will attribute a symbolic meaning to this that might not be there if the team were co-located: “They really don’t care if we are informed. They forget about us most of the time, like we don’t matter”

Give the group shared experiences, for example, train together as an intact team. Use training methods that mirror the way you work – virtually or as a mixture of in-person and virtual.

Be available to everyone equally. Be willing to listen to their emotional outbursts, attend some of their meetings, get to them when you can, offer advice, coach them, discuss OFTEN using whatever channels of communication you can.

Give attention to each individual during virtual team meetings, ask questions, bring people in by name, call for feedback, invite people to give input, go round in turn, ask them personally to contribute. Stress that you value the honest opinions of each team member, that they have the right to disagree, that you want to hear that they have a different view. Each person needs to feel like you notice what they do and how they are feeling.

Don’t favour those who sit nearest to you / who you know best / who you’ve known for the longest time when you distribute work.

Set and uphold standards for the global team e.g. “We don’t criticise our colleagues from this team publicly.” Sometimes this means you need to correct statements that don’t support the global team way: “Yes in Toronto you did it that way. But in this global team, WE do it this way….”

Give personal feedback in a way that sticks. Feedback via technology can be saved and re-read later which can help team members remind themselves of the benefits of being a member of this team.

Share individual success with the whole team.  Done well, it’s a good way to help everyone know what others are up to and to share in the feeling that we are a team of successful people. Done badly, you end up with a cringe-making round of superficial praise or an awkward tick-box system of rotating through each name over a number of meetings.

Remind the whole team of what you have collectively accomplished and share praise that you get from outside groups.

The next article in this series will deal with the issue of how to communicate and co-ordinate effectively in a virtual team.


This is one of a series of articles regarding Virtual Teams all of which are available on our website.

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