It’s all about the people, folks

In many ways, leading virtual teams, project teams and roaming teams (for example, teams of ‘road warriors’ such as ambulance and police officers, sales representatives and repair service technicians) aren’t all that different from leading teams whose members work with you in the same space every day. All these teams have goals to achieve and members who want to feel they’re making a useful, and appreciated, contribution. They want to feel they’re making progress, not just towards achieving their work goals but also personally, in terms of learning and development, for example. And they want to feel a sense of camaraderie with those they work with.

Communication and cordial relationships are the first two foundations for success in all of these types of team. This should come as no surprise — people don’t respond well to being taken for granted. We all want to know we’re valued as individuals, not just for the results we produce, but also as people with families and homes and hobbies.

Without prying, get to know a little bit about each team member’s life outside of work so you can ‘pass the time of day’ in a relaxed and friendly way. Make time every day to check in with each team member and see how they’re going, both generally and work-wise. With roaming, virtual and project teams, you probably need to make a special effort to do that.

Most team members don’t want to connect just with their boss but also with each other; this happens naturally when people see each other every day, but it can be much harder to get to know your project, roaming and virtual teammates. That’s where you come in: finding ways to help the team members get to know a bit about each other’s lives and interests.  

As with any team, take care that subgroups, or cliques, don’t develop, particularly when your team is made up of people from different cultures, functions or locations. Friendships may develop but your goal is to help all team members bond and build up a team spirit.

The third foundation of leading virtual, roaming and project teams is clear expectations. It goes without saying that you need to make clear people’s roles and goals and matters such the formats and frequency of up-dates and how quickly to respond to queries and other communications. Make your expectations clear about non-task matters, too, such as the behaviours you expect during meetings and when it is and isn’t okay to contact each other outside of normal hours.

The ability to lead teams well is a core skill in modern workplaces. It doesn’t matter what sector or industry you’re in — consumer goods, education, finance, manufacturing, service or high tech, or even where your team members are located and how often you see them face-to-face, you still need to make your expectations clear, communicate openly and often, treat team members as individual people who make a worthwhile contribution and find ways to cement their relationships with each other as well as with you.