Effective communication is never easy, and communication between leaders and team members becomes even more difficult in a virtual-team setting. The spontaneous encounters that help build trust and cooperation among team members working in a traditional work setting are gone. The body language and nonverbal facial expressions that we can usually rely on to interpret messages are missing. In their place are ever-changing communication technologies that leave plenty of room for error and misunderstandings.
As a leader, you must overcome the inherent challenges of leading a virtual team and find a way to bridge the communication gap. It’s only through effective communication that your team members will be able to exchange information, align their actions with organizational goals, and ultimately achieve results.
Three Characteristics of Successful Virtual Leaders
CMOE works with leaders across the globe to help them eliminate communication challenges and build high-performance teams. Successful virtual leaders tend to exhibit three key behaviors:
1) They minimize communication breakdowns. Communicating across regions and multiple time zones creates delays between the time a message is sent and when it is received by others. Discuss the best methods for communicating with your team members and set mutual expectations up front. Agree upon basic protocols such as the best ways to contact one another, whether it’s through e-mail, telephone, cell phone, text messages, or instant messaging.
It’s also important to determine what types of messages are critical to the business and need to be responded to during the evening, holidays, vacation, or weekend hours. Leaders must also pay special attention to the situation and the communication method that is most appropriate. For example, an urgent customer complaint that requires an immediate response may lend itself best to a discussion over the phone or through instant messaging. Written communication is perfect for sharing information, but it’s not as effective for resolving conflict.
2) They make up for the missing non-verbal communication cues. The best global leaders have found ways to connect on a personal level with their virtual team members. They use communication tools that allow for voice-to-voice or face-to-face communication when possible. The popularity of technologies that allow for video calls and voice calls, such as Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting, has increased significantly in the last few years.
When it’s not possible to connect voice to voice, some leaders incorporate social-media symbols (such as a smile or a wink) into written communication when appropriate. This allows them to add a little personality and humor to their messages and helps them enhance the relationships they have with their team members. They also encourage people to ask questions. Inviting participation in this way is a powerful method for gaining mutual understanding.
3) They are clear and concise in their written messages. The subject line in an email should clearly indicate the topic, priority, and any action that needs to be taken by the reader. Break up lengthy paragraphs and make your messages more concise and easy to scan by including headings, bullets, and numbered lists. If an email is longer than a few paragraphs, consider whether a phone call would be the better method for sending your message.
Virtual communication becomes even more challenging when a leader needs to announce a new direction, deliver difficult feedback, or coach employees. CMOE helps leaders overcome communication barriers and lead virtual teams to accomplish their goals.
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