How would you feel and what would you do?
You are the leader of a virtual team with people located in 5 different countries. During the past weeks, you and the team have been working on the project plan, and today the tasks were assigned and agreed. The team members seemed ok with the workload. This afternoon you sent the final planning with the names assigned to tasks, and the minutes from the meeting.
What will you do next?
- Follow-up with each team member regularly, especially extra calls in the beginning.
- Leave the team members alone and follow-up quickly if they contact you.
This is a scenario occurring often in virtual teams and how you answer is a reflection of your own cultural preferences. A problem occurs if the expectation of your team members is different than yours.
Scenario A tends to be in countries which are more group oriented, focused on hierarchy and external control. The follow-up call from the leader to the team member has a few functions. First, it is an opportunity for the leader and member to connect, learn about each other and build a relationship. Second, it is a signal to the team member that this task or project is important. Afterall, the team leader is making extra effort to follow-up, so the team member realizes the priority of this task. Finally, as the world is continuously changing, which could have an impact on the project, the follow-up call is also an opportunity to discuss the changes and the impact on the tasks at hand.
If the team leader does not call, the team member may lose motivation as they interpret the silence as a lack of importance of the task.
Scenario B assumes the team members will do the assigned task unless they say something otherwise. As they are from individualistic countries, they are empowered themselves to complete the task, and prefer recognition for their contribution when the task is complete. As this group is also internal controlled, they believe that once a plan has been made, they can make it happen, no matter what happens with the circumstances. In other words, change is always happening, but the conditions in which they operate are relatively stable and predictable.
If the team leader calls, they lose motivation as they interpret the call as a lack of trust in their abilities.
Both scenarios seem appropriate as a means to work together, but what do you do?
As a team leader, recognize your own preference and let it go. Remember your intention – to motivate your team members to complete the assigned tasks. You will need to adapt your behavior to realize your intention as different colleagues have different needs. Use the behavior which best motivates each team member. This may require you to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with new ways of leading. Have a conversation with your team about your observations so they may learn as well.
For more ideas on working across cultures and working virtually, contact email@example.com
Culture Cubes are common generic scenarios to trigger reflection on different perspectives. They are not meant to encourage stereotyping or labeling.