Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coaching Virtual Teams

A good manager is also a good coach. But what if your team is a virtual one, spread out in different cities or countries? A lot of leaders with virtual teams choose to ignore that part of managing and prefer to focus their precious time on their projects, not their people. It is definitely taking the easy way out, but when their companies don’t particularly reward efforts at employee development you can’t blame these managers much.

Being good leaders, we know this is short-sighted, especially when there is a dearth of good leadership which is only going to get worse as people switch organizations, opt out of corporate work, or retire.

Developing future leaders starts with being a great coach to them.  Building trust and respect is the foundation of coaching. I know your time is limited but adding a few minutes to your schedule should pay off when you don’t have to spend time onboarding a new hire after your employees quit for more enticing opportunities. Here are a few suggestions for developing trust and respect and for coaching those remote employees:

• Talk one-to-one via the telephone to each direct report periodically. Include a little “personal time” talk to find out what they did during the weekend, how their family is doing, and milestones for them and their kids. Write down their kids’ and spouses’ names and important facts like their hobbies or birthdays. Put the birthdays and other milestones into your calendar.

• Be sure and send a text or email message acknowledging those milestones when they come up in your calendar. Follow up with questions about events and people that are important to them. Your direct reports will be impressed that you remembered or cared. This is all about relationship-building.

• Listen carefully during conference calls and take notes. Listen to how your employees communicate and interact, ideas they may present, or priorities they focus on. Listen first of all for things you can reinforce with a little praise and appreciation. Listen second for things you can help them improve in order to be more successful. Respond immediately out loud on the call for the good stuff. Call them later for a ‘coaching to improve performance’ conversation for the other.

• Stay collaboratively influential with social media. Be sure your team has a Yammer or Sharepoint site, or even a Facebook page where you can share ideas and observations with each other. Besides messages about the projects your team is responsible for, this allows you an open forum for team coaching.

Studies have shown that 5:1 is the “magic ratio” for optimum relationships. That means in order to develop and maintain good relationships (whether personal or professional), there should be a minimum of 5 positive interactions to every negative one. That’s even more important to keep in mind when you can only communicate virtually. Just talking about business all the time is neutral, and not necessarily a “positive interaction”.

How to manage performance and coach employees to develop is a challenge when it’s face-to-face, much less virtually. Managers need to be even more vigilant and observant in order to detect those teachable moments and identify those coachable direct reports. But if you don’t want your people to jump ship at the next opportunity, you need to be the boss they want to work for. That means helping them be successful in their current work and coaching them on how to be ready to advance in their careers. No matter where they are.

How do you build trust and respect with your virtual team members?

Communicating with your remote team members can have unforeseen challenges.

The Playing for Change folks must be incredible at virtual teaming to come up with these amazing performances!


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