Think of it as a long-distance relationship. You’ve been apart for months since your last visit. You’ve each settled into your own routine, established your own strategy and procedure to overcome the distance, and worst of all, become comfortable with your own bad habits.
And, as in any long-distance relationship, when disagreements or full-blown conference call fights erupt, both parties must decide what they’ll do to keep the spark alive. Without a mutual agreement that this thing is worth the hard work, the long-distance relationship can just crumble under misunderstandings, accusations, snarky emails and misappropriated blame.
A virtual company culture can be strained in many of the same ways as any personal relationship.
Expectations can be poorly communicated, feedback can be misinterpreted, internal or external conflict can erupt at the drop of a “send” button. The team—large or small—may be spread out around the state, country, or dispersed around the globe, but they are still responsible for creating quality deliverables through healthy, collaborative teamwork.
Before things get out of hand, it may be wise to proactively invest in a business coach for the virtual team.
But how can a business coach serve a virtual team in ways that the team leader or employees themselves cannot?
1) Impartial Third Party for Conflict Resolution
In a virtual environment, the lack of regular face-to-face contact causes teams to drift apart and lose the sense of deep camaraderie needed for a high performing team. As Nomadic International Business Psychology emphasizes, “Coaching of virtual teams can strengthen virtual team leadership and increase engagement by building virtual closeness.”
The virtual team’s business coach will serve as that safe intermediary to listen to both sides of the story, offer alternative explanations from an impartial third party, and provide balanced, manageable suggestions for conflict resolution and smarter communication methods. The process of building virtual closeness has begun.
2) Bird’s Eye View of Personal Strengths and Weaknesses
Virtual team business coaches and trainers can help leaders and individuals recognize and really own their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. In the same way, they can help team leaders gain clarity around each member’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
A skilled team coach is equipped to assess the relative areas of strength across all members of the team and provide guidance on how to generate greater output from your teams. This awareness can shift all members into roles where they feel honored for their talents and more energized to give their all.
3) Facilitating a Commitment Culture
Well-functioning teams often demonstrate two foundational qualities: trust and commitment. However, these qualities can be some of the hardest to develop in a virtual organization.
Most team members inherently want to foster healthy, trusting relationships; we want to feel committed to our work and colleagues. But that’s not easy when you’re working at your kitchen table or private workspace in another part of the country. One wonders: Is everyone putting in the same amount of time and effort? Are you being compensated justly for the work-life balance you’re sacrificing? Is the company investing in the proper technology to enhance company productivity?
Instead of asking these questions over and over in one’s own head, employees can take questions to the virtual team coach.
This is a safe, confidential outlet for expressing the doubts, concerns, and frustrations – before the emotions get the best of you. Serving the team and the team leaders, the coach can present the team’s concerns to the leader in a conscientious, non-accusatory manner. Language, tone, and distance will be a key asset in this case.
Bridging this gap between team and team leader, surfacing important issues that are then handled responsibly can build trust across the team. When a leader genuinely values his or her team’s concerns and demonstrates willingness to make sacrifices to uphold the team’s wishes and needs, respect is fortified. From there, a culture of commitment can be built.
Business gains take on a whole new shape when team members are not only intellectually invested, but also emotionally attached to their work and outcome. The business coach can see this growth from outside, and nurture it with utmost care.
4) Transparency, Transparency, Transparency
Transparency may be the single-most important practice that any company, especially a virtual company, can achieve, and yet, it’s just so hard.
Many of us are skeptical and self-protecting. Many struggle with full-disclosure. And yet, it’s key to a healthy work life and work relationships.
The virtual team coach can work with team members and leaders to help them identify and assess their individual communication styles; they will be pushed to dissect and understand why each party chooses to communicate the way they do – and where they can work to become more transparent.
A virtual team coach can then guide each team member to productively share information, ask questions, and express dissidence. The result is that, even without in-person contact, team members will learn how to use written and verbal communications to express their ideas and emotions in respectful and effective ways.