The Key To Controlling Your Virtual Team

If you lead a virtual team – a group of workers that’s geographically dispersed – you probably worry about what work they’re actually doing. Almost half of remote professionals list that lack of visibility as a top concern.

Maybe you wish you had more visibility, and more control. It is possible to use technology to generate all kinds of information about what workers are actually doing. But be careful what you wish for!

Penny Pullan spells it out in her excellent book Virtual Leadership. “In the 20th century, command-and-control was the primary way that managers worked… It especially suits areas with lots of repetitive action and unskilled labour, such as factories and mass-production environments…

“[But] with more and more workers handling knowledge rather than things, using thinking as a key tool, it no longer made sense not to harness their minds fully. Command and control tends to reduce workers’ intrinsic motivation to do good work. It can create an ‘us and them’ culture, dividing managers and workers, as seen when workers take industrial action.

“Command-and-control managers are likely to micro-manage the work done by workers, wanting to know precisely what is being done at any time and, preferably, being able to see the workers’ progress with their own eyes. This is not going to work in a virtual world, is it? While micro-managing their team might give a manager the feeling of control, it can destroy individuals’ motivation to work.

“How have you felt when people have micro-managed you? I suspect you didn’t like it much. I certainly don’t like it at all! In our virtual world, motivation is really important as it helps to keep remote workers engaged and focused on their virtual work.”

What works better?  She quotes Daniel Pink on the three key aspects that motivate workers engaged in non-routine tasks:

  • Purpose: the connection to a cause larger than ourselves that gives meaning to work. It is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves and it gives our work meaning.
  • Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery: the urge to get better

And the practical how-to? Penny suggests: “As a coach and facilitator, the leader asks questions to help people work out the solution for themselves, rather than telling them what to do.”

What a perfect opportunity to use Clean Language questions! They can be used one-on-one or with whole teams. You could start by asking everyone: “When you are working at your best, you are like… what?” and quickly find out about every participants’ motivations.

  • Want to try this with your virtual team? You can book me for a lunch-and learn via video-call. Contact me.

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