Virtual managers are key to high-performance virtual teams. Strong team leadership is always important, but it is critical in the mobile workplace.

Team connection is maintained through communication, connection, and shared agreements. Technology has always played a role in creating and maintaining team synergy.

The technology of the pen and paper were predominant connectors prior to the typewriter. I remember how lucky I knew I was to have the IBM Selectric III to type up my thesis!

The telephone was dominant prior to email.

Previous technologies do not go away; the cadre of available tools merely expands. At first a technology seems unnecessary, then becomes indispensable. I know I scoffed at the iPad.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the team leader’s need to align people’s behavior so that teams produce successful outcomes.

The Manager Really Is the Critical Success Factor.

Teams are human beings that come together to do, be or make something together that they can’t make alone. Whether a company is a truly networked organization and digitally literate or not, it’s the quality of relationships and conversations that keeps teams connected and engaged with the organization and each other. Team managers that I talk to know they are critical to high performance virtual teams, and they often hesitate to encourage virtual work because they aren’t confident they are up for it!

When I point bland ask managers why they hesitate to encourage flexible work, especially work from home, I usually hear the same primary reason –

Managers can’t manage what they can’t see.

Well, that may be TRUE (sort of…)

Managers can’t manage what they can’t see……using traditional techniques.

Managers must manage for results.

The data is in. It’s always the same overall. My book, research report after research report, employee survey data, and L&D metrics reveal that virtual team productivity only goes down when managers are not supported and trained in how to bridge virtual distance. (If you want to see proof, check out past TSW blog posts, Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace, or  this report on the self-reported confidence and competence upshift when virtual managers received just 3 hours of effective training.

In developing teams quickly, supporting them fully, and managing for results, virtual leaders consistently see higher overall team performance and engaged, satisfied employees, as the Threefold Path for High Performing Virtual Teams ™ shows.

Manage from the Network, not Place

People don’t have to go to a place to be connected. Unfortunately, unless management competencies expand to include virtual collaboration and relationship skills, people do have to go to a place to stay connected. Corporate giants like Yahoo and IBM are pulling people back in because they aren’t managing from the network and motivating their employees to connect with the business strategy. I suspect this is happening partly because technology integrations standardize work to help managers measure productivity, unintentionally encouraging corporate cultures to continue to gravitate toward bureaucratic control – old school management with technical assistance. Technology, being neutral, complies. It’s good to control the controllable; however, organizations need to evolve to embrace the team leader’s role as fostering empowered collaboration.

Beliefs and Habits

Few teams have fully redeveloped for virtual collaboration, even when the collaborative tools are all in place. Team leaders often don’t see what integrators and connectors they are. Today’s teams are more like the movie industry. The cast and production “team” is built around a shared goal – a good movie. Cast/Team members are highly interactive and interdependent – producers, director, screenwriters, actors, cinematographers, musicians, editors and crew.

Rather than a traditional organization chart, today’s teams are aligned around interdependent competencies and relationships. The relationships and outcomes build in accountabilities and collaborative management practices – it matters little (for many jobs) where the team members are working.

Learn more about the Powerful Role of the Virtual Leader by taking our Smart Workplace on-demand course, available only through Virtual Workplace University.