How to enhance team performance from a distance
There is a massive body of scientific literature about the relationship between leaders and their employees. Nevertheless, the dynamic nature of these relationships is oftentimes underestimated: Apart from the mutual influence between an employee and his or her leader, team members also have relationships amongst each other which are constantly updated with every encounter between them. Think of your team as a network with each node being a team member, each edge being a relationship to one or many other individuals and each signal being messages sent amongst the network in order to achieve a common goal.
If one of the edges are weak in one of the key areas, communication amongst the neighboring nodes might be less efficient. In order to make most out the network in terms of fast and reliable functioning, it is important that we strengthen the connections between the nodes. Or put differently: to cope with our workload and achieve our objectives in times of corona, we need to take care of each other and communicate even more than usual. This is not only true for leaders, but for all team members. Apart from business-related messages sent across the network, we also send emotional signals that are oftentimes overlooked – whether being intended or not. We experience a unique situation in which everybody feels uncertain from time to time, therefore we need to support each other more strongly to cope with any downs long before they affect our productivity. Do you ask your colleagues regularly how they do apart from work? Do they feel ambiguous, sad or insecure? Reversely, have you been asked how you cope with the current situation? Sometimes it may be difficult to detect how others feel by studying nonverbal signals only, but it should become much clearer if you ask explicitly and give room for sharing personal thoughts, irrespectively of how much is left on your desk. Communicating with colleagues on a daily basis seems to increase work engagement – a fulfilling and constructive work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption (Bakker & Xanthopoulou, 2009; ten Brummelhuis, Bakker, Hetland, & Keulemans, 2012). People who are happily devoted to their work achieve better results and demonstrate an increased work capacity – thus, the benefits of regular conversations should outweigh any concerns about approaching deadlines.
Apart from caring for each other on an individual level, how can you organize project-related work if you cannot share an office? These days we rarely have a casual glance at our colleague’s computers or chat about their current activities when making our way to have lunch. When working on a task, it can sometimes happen that we do not really know what other team members do because they are not directly involved in the same project. However, can you really know for sure that there is no technical overlap with between your tasks? To avoid double-work and ensure alignment across projects, it might help to organize To-Do’s on a digital board that is accessible to everybody. Trello could be a good platform to create such boards (https://trello.com/), but preferences may vary across organizations. In any case, we need to break through the physical barriers of our home offices and create a common digital space. This way teams can avoid too heavy workloads and manage their tasks effectively.
It appears that we all need to put a little more effort into direct communication when working in digital teams. But apart from that, what else can you do as a leader to empower your team members from a distance? As already mentioned above, leadership can have different foci – leading individuals, leading teams and leading yourself. In the next article, you will not only find out what cookies have to do with leadership, but you will probably learn that you need to lead yourself first before leading others.
Bakker, A. B., & Xanthopoulou, D. (2009). The Crossover of Daily Work Engagement: Test of an Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1562–1571. doi.org/10.1037/a0017525
ten Brummelhuis, L. L., Bakker, A. B., Hetland, J., & Keulemans, L. (2012). Do new way