During the recent pandemic, many organizational leaders have wisely provided extra support, empathy and grace to team members who have abruptly had to shift to working from home. While this has been admirable and needed, it’s also important for team leaders to provide virtual accountability.
Here are several tips for leaders of virtual teams looking to build more accountability.*
- Encourage team members to be self-directed and individually responsible for meeting their goals and deadlines. This may be hard for team members used to someone telling them what to do and literally looking over their shoulder to encourage focus and productivity. Paint a picture with them of what it will look like to be more proactive and self-sufficient in their work. Tap into what motivates them. And decide together how they will move forward.
- Make it clear to the team that accountability is everyone’s job. If the leader sets the example, peers are more likely to hold each other accountable, too. One auto industry leader regularly has his team members show progress against OKRs during team meetings. Then teammates ask questions and make suggestions.
- Clarify and communicate roles and responsibilities. If clarity is not possible now, then help them focus on what is clear and tell them when more clarity will come. Another leader in the tech industry is providing clarity and alignment by creating brief video messages outlining strategic direction for key initiatives that can be viewed across the organization when needed.
- Measure success by results – not time worked. Collaborate with team members to set realistic deadlines, interim milestones and regular progress check-ins. Then, if needed, help them establish structure and routines in working from home to support them to deliver.
- Provide direct feedback. Try the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) approach as a way to give both constructive feedback and praise. Giving constructive feedback one-on-one helps minimize defensiveness. Giving praise publicly helps to amplify the positive impact. Use video or phone for constructive feedback and emotionally charged conversations where possible versus email, instant message or text.
- Publicly affirm examples of team members holding each other accountable. We’re not talking about giving license to team members to berate and shame each other. But too many teams don’t take the risk of having difficult but needed conversations with peers. If one team member comes to you with a gripe about another team member, coach them to work it out directly live.
- Ensure technology serves your team versus your team serving technology. There is an initial learning curve and a required commitment and time investment by team members in order to move to online collaboration platforms, new project management software, video conferencing, or the countless other technological tools available. But the tool should ultimately make your lives easier – not harder. Leverage technology but don’t overdo it.
- Run effective team meetings. Many good articles have been written on this topic. Meeting basics – communicating agendas in advance, minimizing information dumps and encouraging interaction, following up to communicate who does what by when after the meeting, keeping meetings short and tight – are even more important in virtual settings. Have people keep their video on and their phones off to build connection and focus. If you want people to pay attention during the meeting, honor their time. Call on them and plan topics and approaches that are efficient, engaging and relevant. Keep meetings to no more than 60-90 minutes without a break.
In an increasingly virtual work environment, leaders must be intentional and creative about building the accountability their teams need to be effective. Following these tips will help.
*Thanks to author and speaker Tara Powers, who shared many of these tips and others in her book, How to Provide Feedback and Accountability to Virtual Team Members.
Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders and teams achieve extraordinary relationships and results that matter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.