I don't think that this comes as a surprise that success on a virtual team is all about communication. We all know that good leaders need to be able to engage and motivate their teams to attain a shared corporate goal. A 2015 study found that one of the top three development priorities for leaders is the ability to connect and clearly provide direction during informal feedback and coaching sessions. The challenge is, according to research from Development Dimensions International (DDI), that leaders frequently do the opposite in their interactions with their teams. They often fail to provide clear direction or feedback and this results in lackluster productivity on a team. This inability to drive the vision through their organization reduces the leader’s influence in the broader organization and with their employees and peers.
Let's be honest. Many of you were chosen to lead because you excelled in your role and the logical next step was to lead a group. What I've witnessed in many companies is that the new role doesn't come with the requisite "people skills" training needed to be successful. As a result, many new leaders flounder as they try to apply their old skill set to their new environment. In Marshall Goldsmith's book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, he discusses the high failure rate of leaders who don't evolve because of the "Success Delusion". He says we overestimate our contribution, have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and conveniently ignore setbacks that we have created.
Get a second opinion on your communication skill set. As a virtual expert and an executive communications coach, my best advice to anyone promoted to lead or currently leading a virtual team is to spend your development dollars on improving your communication skills. Spend your dollars on a program where you can demonstrate your skills, receive honest feedback and practice the new skills you have learned. If you think you are good, you have nothing to lose by checking it out. If I'm honest about my time as a leader, there were many moments where my communication lacked clarity and context which diminished what I really wanted to express. As you've probably experienced, when this happens, your audience walks away unsure of what you want or what they need to accomplish.
It all begins with honest feedback and self-observation. When you are receiving feedback and you hear, "Don't worry, I do this also", that's the time to worry. They are diminishing/softening their feedback by including themselves. That's supposed to make you feel better but don't be deluded by this. Ask them to explain what they mean...It's important to hear what they've said and it's probably worse than they have let on. I know this seems harsh but it's a gift to you. It may not feel good in the moment, but feedback is the breakfast of champions! I know that sounds corny but it rings very true.
Here are just a few of the symptoms of communication challenges that kill collaboration and, both written and verbal, communication:
• Rambling sentences connected by uh, uhm, emh, soooo, annnd, "you know" and “like”.
• Diminishing eye contact from your listener.
• Long emails where the point is not immediately recognizable.
• Long winded explanations ... you know what I'm talking about!
• When your audience asks you what's the priority when you thought you already told them.
• When people ask you to repeat the question on a virtual meeting or conference call.
• When you are presenting in front of a group and fail to look in people’s eyes.
• When your audience on a virtual call is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
• When you are even confused by the words that just came out of your mouth.
• When you fail to respond to a teammate's communication in a timely fashion.
If any of these symptoms rings true for you, seek out coaching and make some changes.
As a good leader, it is important that you communicate clearly. Use your team, colleagues and/or professional coaching to help you be the leader you want to be by asking for feedback and making sure that you are getting your point across.