At &us we’re a little bit obsessed with what it takes to create the right environment and conditions for talented teams to unleash their potential to make great things.
So the challenge of addressing the specific needs of teams navigating the corporate world who are connected across different countries and remote locations makes us particularly excited.
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Designing for distributed teams — teams who work online and are not connected in a physical office space — has pushed us to think bigger, get smarter and figure out the best way to foster connection, trust and creativity when teams are dialling in from all continents to crack complex problems together.
But it’s no walk in the park. A team needs safety trust, discipline, rigour and a heartbeat rhythm to make and build great new things together. For the virtual teams that we support, that challenge is compounded.
Throw in the added factors of different time-zones, language and cultural barriers and you have a whole new level of complexity to grapple with.
So, we’ve spent time getting under the skin of the blockers for creative teams cracking thorny problems in the worlds of big pharma, retail and finance and gathered a load of learning on what’s needed to deliver best-in-class coaching to get teams collaborating in the virtual space.
One thing we know is there’s no cookie-cutter recipe for running a workshop with a distributed team. That said we hold fast to the idea that a set of consistent principles (and a few smart tools and tricks along the way) can supercharge people to do their best work no matter where they are dialling in from.
Here’s a flavour of some of the tools, tips and tactics to apply to get the most out of your remote crew.
1. Define a crystal clear purpose at the start
It’s easy to forget the importance of the basics when a team shows up online. Zooming out to focus on why the team exists and what they are there to do is a smart way to kick off. Defining the “why” (why us, why now?) will focus the energy and brain power of the team who may be context-switching like crazy from their last meeting. Defining why we are here is about getting them into the right headspace from the get-go to get them aligned on the job to be done.
2. Agree clear shared behaviours together
To foster accountability, a team that’s working online will need clarity around how to behave perhaps even more than if meeting in a physical space.
Being present online is harder so spending a few moments at the start of the workshop agreeing how to behave is about creating alignment as a group.
It doesn’t need to be done seriously and getting the team to call out the ways they want to be for the next hour (being present/ honest/playful etc) will help them feel clear and committed on the task at hand and emphasise the mindset that will help them focus on that task.
3. Allow time to slow down and reflect
A team collaborating online will need just as much or maybe even more space and reflection time than they would in a physical environment. Building in pause time, breaks and “all press mute” moments will allow teams to recharge, reflect and process so they return to the conversation with more to offer as well as allow space for introverted learning styles to process.
4. Use the right digital tools to create spaces to play
Thoughtful selection of the right tool or exercise can ramp up the engagement from a remote team. We have loved using tools like Mural with teams to replicate the structure and physical space of a real workshop space. Mural uses Post-its, breakout spaces, etc to create a clever layout with interactive virtual walls that give the feeling of a physical room. This means teams can really home in on the task without being distracted by the technology.
There are’s loads of sophisticated platforms for supporting virtual needs out there, just make sure that you allow time for teams to adjust to the novelty of using new tools.
5. Foster real and deep connections beyond the structured time
There’s no doubt that it’s harder to cultivate a strong baseline of trust and connection between a team that is connecting virtually. So investing in time outside the structured workshop sessions to build the rapport and community through different style meetings and touchpoints will reap rewards when they do need to focus to crack a hard problem.
Making space for building a rhythm around the work to foster closeness and trust means when they connect to get things done, there’s already a natural connection and ease in place.
By being armed with these starting points, teams will start from a baseline to do their best work.
We would love to hear your experiences of creating the conditions for virtual teams to thrive. Get in touch with us!