Lacking a sense of teamness. There area number of instruments for remote collaborative work out there - think tools like Slack, Basecamp, and Asana. They make communication in teams more productive and easy. Yet there are no obvious tools to enhance quality of communication and connectedness between team members. This sense of teamness, a feeling that you belong to a group and identify yourself with your team, is hard to create using regular productivity tools. At Hyper Island, the Swedish creative school with a deep focus on group dynamics, they call it the 'How’ of a groupwork — a soft-skills side of communication.
Feeling lonely. Generally, team members want to contribute to the common goal and be part of something bigger. At the same time, each individual looks for autonomy and sense of identity. For remote teams, it might be a struggle, since each member has a lot of autonomy and independence (e.g., how to arrange their day, how and when to get tasks done, etc.). At some point in remote work, this may create a sense of loneliness for team members.
Dealing with trust and conflict. Team dynamics consultant Patrick Lencioni considers lack of trust and fear of conflict as two major dysfunctions of teamwork. In remote work situations, these two play even more crucial role. Conflict still happens in remote teams, but it’s harder to overcome effectively since one-on-one communication is of different quality than in person. At the same time, trust might be harder to gain and easier to lose, since you don’t see people working and explaining their thinking in informal set up.
Enhancing the quality of remote teamwork
There are a few ways for remote teams to effectively tackle these challenges. They may require some courage since working with soft-skills side of communication means touching emotional topics and being vulnerable with your team.
1. Establish team alignment meetings. The Team Canvas is a tool for structuring team alignment session, available on MURAL. Use one of Team Canvas templates as a way to start a structured conversation with your team on your goals, values, strengths, weaknesses and needs. Teams that go through Team Canvas sessions report higher clarity and alignment, with less friction and conflict
2. Daily check-ins and be present. To build trust and reduce loneliness, team members should be there for each other, and be open with each other. Some good ways to increase openness is a practice of daily check-ins and check-outs. The team starts a day with a round of quick check-in, when each member expresses what she feels at the beginning of the workday. Each day is finished with symmetrical check-out session. This is something that team could do via skype stand-up session or Slack chat.
3. Embrace conflict instead of letting it go. Conflict is a very important tool for group development and something you shouldn’t just let go. Group dynamics scholars have identified four group development stages each team goes through:
Forming: dependence and inclusion;
Storming: counterdependence and fight;
Norming: starting to work together smoothly;
Performing: reaching natural high performance state
At stage one, team members avoid conflict and look for inclusion. In the second stage they show counterdependence and start to fight. This is perfectly normal and even desirable: the quicker you get to the conflict stage, the quicker you can find ways to deal with it effectively and constructively, to move on to more advanced stages three and four. However, if the conflict is just smoothed over or let go, the group has bigger chance to go back to stage one. Some of the ways to deal effectively with conflict are to include third side (mediator), to do regular retrospective/feedback sessions and team alignment sessions.
Getting teams to work effectively remotely may be a challenging task, especially when you deal with issues of trust, accountability and fear of conflict. However, the behaviors mentioned above might significantly enhance the quality of communication (way beyond what software tools can do), making your team stronger and more cohesive.
Let us know which tools and techniques for developing your team you use.
Alex Ivanov is an innovation and product designer. He is the author of Team Canvas, a free tools for team leaders and facilitators that helps to structure team alignment meetings, bring members on the same page and building productive culture, fast.