By Kathryn M. Denton
How do you manage a team made up of individuals spread all over the nation or the world? If you are leading such a team, and you try to manage your team exclusively through calls to individuals, your team won't gel and your deliverables may never materialize. Here are some steps and insights to help.
Get to know your team
Ask team members to share their bio, including what they feel they can bring to the team. If some are shy and fear they don't have enough experience compared to others, encourage them and ensure them that the team needs willing researchers more than it needs arrogant observers. Once your bios are in hand, use this information to establish who has leadership skills and who the tech leaders are likely to be. If you discover experience gaps that need to be filled, ask team members to nominate someone to fill those gaps.
Have an agenda
Prior to the first conference call, prepare an agenda that aligns with the charter and focuses on team goals. Schedule the conference call with time zones in mind. Select a time in the middle of the collective team's day so those in fringe time zones won't be left out. The Web site for the U.S. Naval Observatory master clock can help you with time-zone management. If you don't plan to take minutes yourself, assign someone to the task and remind him or her to log who is in attendance.
Introductions and goals
On the first call, ask team members to introduce themselves briefly and get the team to agree on the goals. It is equally important that you note which team members surface as influential during the call; you will need to draw upon this information later. Also, establish call times and team norms.
Emphasize the importance of the greater good over individual preferences. I know, you've never seen anyone join a team just to get the tool of their choice selected, have you? Well, don't fall into that trap yourself, either. Be willing to change to the tool that the research shows is the better choice.
Think strategy before tactics
It probably won't take long for technicians to move from goals to technical details. It is critical to team efficiency, however, that you keep the calls at a higher level. Ask the team to identify categories of information that need to be researched and seek subteam volunteers to research each category.
For example, a standards team may need to research hardware, software, security products, and what is in place already at each office. Now, ask your previously identified influencers to lead the subteams. Consider skill sets and time zones when putting together the subteams.
Offer guidance to subteam leaders
Provide a sample deliverable template and encourage your subteam leaders to use this format to simplify final deliverable compilation. (Remember that acknowledging the nature of some subteams' work may mandate variation.) This way, you are guiding and supporting creative thinking. Also, ask the subteam leaders what obstacles the team members may need to overcome to be successful, then provide resources to help them overcome those issues. Establish deliverable deadlines that are feasible but allow enough time to compile the results of all subteams and still make the overall team deadline.
A little levity
Whew, a lot of process, huh? Well, to make sure your team members don't feel like they are pawns of the oppressor, don't forget to have some fun along the way. Put on a videoconference that includes show-and-tell. Ask each team member to bring in something to show the others and establish the ground rules. It has to be something they could show their mother, but the funnier the better.
Local heritage items are also encouraged. Give team members two minutes to talk about their show-and-tell item.
Okay, your subteams have worked hard and met their deadlines with awesome deliverables that get to the point and reveal epiphanies to make the world a better place. (As a side note, if that didn't happen, you might have neglected to touch base with the subteam leaders frequently enough. But let's say it did happen.) Great.
Now you get the big job of compiling the subteams' deliverables into the draft of the final deliverable. Pull some all-nighters, have lots of Mountain Dew on hand, and you will prevail. Include an executive summary, recommendations, subteam summaries, appendices of subteam deliverables, and a resource bibliography. If there are some issues that have not been resolved, don't panic. Meet your deadline and include unresolved issues in your final deliverable while recommending a method for addressing those issues.
Review and clean up
When you've completed the draft deliverable, share it with all team members at least a week in advance of a scheduled all-day videoconference call. (If you really want to travel, you could meet in person at this point, but if travel isn't in the cards, go with an all-day videoconference.)
During the all-day event, review the draft deliverable and record decisions and areas of contention. If team members get upset that their product of choice or view wasn't included in a subteam's outcomes, ask them to join that subteam and submit their recommendations to the team.
At the end of the day, direct all subteams to revise their deliverables based on the decisions made and give them a new deliverable deadline.
Finally, clean up the draft and submit the final deliverable to the initiating leaders. Don't get delusions of grandeur yet. If your team has done a great job, your reward is getting the opportunity to plan the implementation.
Kathryn M. Denton is a technology manager with more than 20 years of experience in the field. In her current role, she assists senior management—in all business areas and branches within her organization—with their technology planning and technology communications. She is the author of the upcoming book Corporate Russian Roulette, a business behavior management guide.
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