Cheif Learning Officer Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

How to Lead Effectively in Virtual Environments

 -  1/13/12

Virtual meetings are common in today’s global business world, but leading teams through these channels is no walk in the park. Get your leaders to hone the required skills.

Brad Trask, a consultant at leadership development and strategy execution firm Gagen MacDonald, is still getting accustomed to leading teams in a global environment.

Because the firm’s clients, and some of his co-workers, are located across the globe, Trask said it’s not unusual for his meetings to be held in a virtual environment. Trask, therefore, is tasked with managing through the social barriers that come with holding meetings over the Web.

It’s a situation more people and companies are facing. With the globalization of business, leaders have to learn to lead teams of individuals they may have never met in person. Even as the growth in social media and communication technologies has made life easier for global leaders, guiding teams is not easy when the comfort of normal human interaction is broken.

Such barriers require that managers put extra emphasis on the ability to influence, communicate and plan, Trask said. CLOs can help build these skills through learning modules and simulations that force teams in virtual environments to find a shared sense of purpose even as they lack shared real estate.

“When you’re not located together, you have to have disciplined approach to how things are going to be measured in terms of touching base,” Trask said. “You still have to clarify a shared sense of purpose for the team.”

Because virtual gatherings are disconnected by the traditional human relationships that are formed when people work together daily, the ability to create a sense of unity and purpose for the team — and for the goals of each meeting or project— is an especially important skill for leaders to acquire, Trask said. Laying out each meeting’s goals and staying on a strict agenda is especially important when leading in a virtual environment, he said, where meeting participants are more likely to multitask or pay attention to other projects.

Beth O’Neill, a senior consultant with workplace learning services firm Interaction Associates Inc., whose client list includes Yahoo!, StubHub and eBay, said leaders in virtual environments should learn to pay extra attention to visual cues and tone of voice during virtual meetings.


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