Are you Leading or Managing your Long-Distance Team? Part 2
This blog is the second of a two-part series discussing the unique challenges to distance leadership. I recommend reviewing Part 1 before reading this blog.
In Part 1 I discussed allowing free time on your visit, and articulating your company’s vision, mission and values. Here are the remaining four lessons on leading distance teams:
3. Listen and Be Accessible
All good leaders are great listeners. Making the time to be a listener is critical.
When visiting, I did not sit in one of the offices reserved for traveling royalty. Instead, I set up shop in a standard cubicle or common area. By forcing team members to bump into you, you can inspire productive and spontaneous conversations. People are less likely to engage you when you are ‘hiding’ in an office.
Be willing to drop other things to have that critical discussion. It takes courage for a junior-level employee to approach you. Fall-out from their peers or supervisors can be uncomfortable. Put them on the back burner, and you may never have that chance again.
4. Question/Learn Informally
One of the staples of Royal Tours are those dreaded team presentations which take a lot of preparation time, rarely reveal anything valuable, and bore everyone to death.
Instead, ask your teams to give informal updates at their desk, over a map, or a coffee. I expect that my team members will be on top of their own responsibilities and be able to give me a short off-the-cuff overview. You can ask good questions without the time constraints and dig deeper into issues. You acquire a deeper understanding of the work being done and the people involved. Good people want to be challenged and when you spend your ‘valuable’ time engaging them this way, they see that you recognize their work has value.
5. Be the Connection
You are the key link between the corporate and the local office. Take time to discuss key events and milestones achieved across the company, even outside your operating area. Don’t assume people have read mass intra-company emails or visited the corporate intranet site. Put a face on it. Your local employees will appreciate an update, and will develop a sense of their value within the company. Be prepared to answer questions.
Ensure that you schedule your intra-divisional meetings at mutually convenient times to allow your distance teams to participate using today’s technology. Nobody wants decisions involving their careers and projects to be made remotely without their input.
Personnel exchanges, working trips and common external training opportunities are great for spreading best practices and knowledge between the groups and building a larger group identity. While costly, the benefits are often paid back in multiples. It is easier to advocate for change at the local office if a local employee already supports the initiative.
6. Reward the Right Behaviors
All leaders need to reward those people who exhibit desired behaviors. At the local office, this effect is magnified. Don’t reward results, unless they are accompanied by the desired behavior.
This is critical if you are trying to change the local office culture. Role models will be challenged by peers and will revert back to the local norm if you don’t reward their efforts.
Leading from a distance is no different than leading at home. The key difference is that you are under a high-power magnifying glass with limited opportunities to make up for mistakes. You must be accessible and approachable when on site, to allow your team to gauge your leadership.