Published June 23, 2009
Business , Coaching , Collaboration , Digital Life , Innovation , Leadership , Networks , Performance , Teamwork
Tags: best practices, effective management, effective teams, Great managers, ideal workplace, teambuilding, Teamwork, virtual employees, virtual manager, virtual work, virtual worker, virtual workforce
I was talking to my manager the other day about writing some sort of article that highlights the skills and talent needed to manage a virtual team. Last year I was able to briefly describe the ideal virtual employee. I decided to come up with characteristics for both virtual managers and virtual employees. This is what I came up with so far… I’m still working on it.
Click on the image to view the full sized mind map
I based the qualities and behaviors of managers on several of the managers I’ve had in the past whom I felt to be highly effective. In a nutshell, I really liked/like working for these people and I’d pick up another job with them in a heartbeat if it was available.
Honestly, I feel that the first thing an effective manager of a virtual team does is hire ‘the right people.’ In a sense, half the chore of managing a team is done once they’ve hired the correct type of person. This isn’t easy, because good employees are often hard to come by, and I speak from my own experience on hiring panels in a corporate workplace. Often interviewees have been coached to “talk the talk,” and a hiring manager needs to be able to see through this. A good virtual manager will probe employees to see if they can truly demonstrate the qualities and behaviors of the “ideal virtual employee.” Moreover, a virtual manager will request and thoroughly review a portfolio of the prospective hiree’s past work before the actual interview. They will aslo ask pointed questions about how the interviewee accomplished or made these portfolio items.
To be honest, when I enter an interview, I actually look for the behaviors I described above in the hiring manager. I want to know that the person who’s leading me is capable of managing me and the whole team effectively. There’s nothing worse that being hired into an extremely dysfunctional team. I’ve often thought of scripting scenarios that take the best moments from interviews I’ve had with managers. I’ve even thought of taking the best coaching moments I’ve experienced and sharing them. So many of us have in the past worked for or currently work with poor managers, sometimes It’s good to know that there are good ones out there. While the economy is bad right now and many people might be willing to put up with working in a dysfunctional workplace, it’s still important to hire good managers (virtual or not) who encourage productive innovation. Innovation and the ability to change and adapt readily is what helps companies survive in succeed in trying times.
Addendum… thanks to Twitter, I’ve found a number of interesting articles on virtual workers:
Strange this morning… I work up with a rhyme from my childhood in my head.
I’ll stay here not budging,
I can and I will… if make you and me and the whole world stand still.
Well, of course, the world didn’t stand still…
The world grew.
Recently, I watched a Frontline episode online. There was an interview with a spokesperson from GM. The interviewer asked her why GM didn’t act earlier on developing hybrid technology. The woman admitted that the company didn’t see and immediate investment return for such an effort. Now, GM’s fate is in the balance and they expect the American tax payer to bail them out of the woes that stem from their inability to think and build towards the future.
PLEASE! This is an example conservative and unimaginative thinking worthy only of those executives who only want to ‘hang in there’ until they can cash their retirement and haul their golf-shoed feet to Scottsdale, AZ or some other place where they put ineffective executives out to pasture.
The American auto industry, if any should be the ones who take advantage of this leadership position in helping the world handle the threat of climate change. I’ll be very blunt. I don’t think there’s any place in this world anymore for leaders who think the ‘old way.’ Caring only about immediate profit margins isn’t going to cut it when we have to think about 10, 20, even 50 year plans for turning the effects of Global Warming around. We’re about to find out how much so much complacency and lack of imagination can cost. I’m placing my faith in the younger generations of corporate leaders. Hopefully, they haven’t taken their cues from the old guard.
Here’s what they have going for them:
- For them it’s not always about self-achievement and individual rewards.
- They are beginning to understand that there is such thing as a bigger picture.
- They can see the world and it’s environment changing (and not necessarily for the better).
- They have children who will inherit this world.
The carpenter may notice you and alter the look and feel of design.
I check out the Slow Leadership blog every now and then. Carmine Coyote had a great post on going against the grain. It’s a well known fact that excellent leaders surround themselves with astute people who do not agree with them all the time. Abraham Lincoln did it. The purpose of doing this, of course, is to make sure that you are going in the right direction and to get multiple perspectives. Again, that challenge that both leaders and diverse teams have is actually working with each other.
I found some great documentary clips on the creation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The crew that designed and develop the original ride seemed to have an excellent team relationship. They were good at what they did, and perhaps their imaginations and creative visions clashed, but under the leadership of Walt Disney they were able to achieve the memorable experience of the ride (too bad they changed it).
Though let’s not delude ourselves to think that disagreeing all the time is the right thing. If you have to disagree all the time there must be something wrong with the working dynamic of the group you belong to.
Sometimes sniping just gets people down
At the conference we were sitting in a lecture. One part of the lecture had us break into groups and analyze four different types of SME. One of the case studies describe an SME/Faculty Member who was highly dedicated to her students. She was extremely prepared, she had her exercises and activities organized and she would often have an activity or lesson plan at her fingertips when the Instructional Designer and the team would say… we need an activity that is like this… When asked to describe the SME one of the the participants in the room described her as “kind of annoying and a show off.”
I thought – what the !@#? I like working with people like that.
Then I thought… she really is revealing how insecure she is by making a comment like that. It actually reminded me of an attitude I’d seen among teachers. There really was this feeling that spread in the faculty lounge that it was not okay to be a “Show Off.” “Show Offs” included people who used new and different teaching styles and approaches or people who “stood out” as teachers. “Show offs” were not to be trusted and often there were political struggles within the school where the “show offs” were involved. In particular, I remember this struggle at one school between teachers who wanted an extra planning period by sending their classes to ‘play educational games’ in the computer lab for one hour vs. the teachers who wanted to break up the lab and actually put the computers in their classrooms and integrate writing, math and science activities using software already installed on the computers. Being the idealistic person I was/am, I assumed that I was just imagining these bad feelings from my peers. Maybe I was channeling June Cleaver, but I really thought I could work around these people and just do things on my own. Honestly, I think this was one of the reasons why I left teaching. The hosing and the sniping could be dealt with if you could find a group of people whom you could identify with and unite with against the snipers, but otherwise it was tiresome to deal with to say the least. I liked the kids and working with kids, I liked their enthusiasm, but even after a while, that wasn’t enough to induce me to remain in the teaching field.
I did some research online and found that were discussion threads and articles and an actual study about professional jealously among educators. It’s been about eight years since I set foot in a public school classroom. I hope things might have changed since then, but I suspect that in a profession where there is no upward mobility there’s no where to snipe, but on the horizontal field of play and your peers are the easiest targets. I’m not saying that all educators are like this, only that in every group, society or culture there will always be people who engage in this kind of behavior. Maybe we should look to Bob Sutton and Slow Leadership to help us figure out how to combat this type of behavior.
Image from this site: http://studio12punt3.web-log.nl/studio12punt3/illustration_friday/index.html
I was watching an episode of Yoshitsune the other day and I was reminded of the importance of reading people well as well as being able to determine what people’s true skills are despite what they say. In this episode the young Samurai lord Yoshitsune must face the challenge of the enemy to shoot down a fan on a small boat floating at least a quarter of a mile off the coast. Yoshitsune surveys the archers who volunteer for the task. Several older and presumably more skilled archers confidently boast that they will definitely be able to shoot the arrow; however, when asked one of the archers expresses his doubt in his ability to do so.
Naso no Yoichi’s reply sounded something like this:
I doubt that I can hit the target. The angle of the wind is unpredictable and the boat is bobbing up and down.
Yoshitsune chose Naso no Yoichi for the job simply because he was the one who seemed to assess the situation clearly. More, what I find admirable is he looked past the swaggering and boasting (translation in corporate culture – the PowerPoint pitch and ‘Pimped up’ progress reports). Oh, yeah… Yoichi hit the target on the first go.
It took me a while to realize this, but Yoshitsune (if the legend is true) was exhibiting signs of a truly good leader because he was listening to the “intuitive guy” rather than the “glib guy.” (See my post which references Kathy Sierra’s definition of the glib and inarticulate parts of our brain). It’s important to see and hear beyond what’s ‘obvious’ when you are a leader because you may miss some underpinnings of either behavior or trends that may set your project and work environment awry. But don’t go to the darkside of believing that you can directly control people’s behavior… other wise you become like this…