As I provide workshops and consult on the topic of leading multi-cultural virtual teams, I am often asked “how often should my team meet in person and virtually?” Leaders asking this question are looking for a guide that they can easily apply to their own teams – have a biweekly conference call to update everyone, meet in person immediately in the start of your team and once every 3 months thereafter, etc. Unfortunately this answer is completely inaccurate for the leader; the actual answer is ‘it depends’, and the leader must use his or her own emotional intelligence to find the answer.
Emotional Intelligence is a commonly known concept and is defined by Psychology Today as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” And much has been written about Emotional Intelligence.
In my experience working with leaders and teams of global organizations, emotional intelligence of the leader is instrumental in the success of the virtual multi-cultural team, even more so than on-site teams. Due to the nature of the communication tools and the distance between people, working virtually naturally encourages a focus on tasks, deadlines, and documents at the expense of relationships, empathy, and trust. The leader, therefore, has an important role to lay the foundations and create an atmosphere where people feel connected, respected and engaged.
How can the emotional intelligence of the leader benefit the virtual team? Here are a few examples:
- The leader pays attention to the energy levels of the team to determine the most effective length of the virtual meeting. The amount of time team members can focus on the discussions may depend on the time of the meeting in their location (ie., is het 6.00 or 20.30 where they are), the complexity of the content, the number of people on the call etc.
- Face-to-face meetings are often desirable for collaboration but are less attractive when considering time, travel, expense, etc. Leaders need to be attuned to the best moment to meet, after doing as much as possible online. Perhaps content or personality conflicts are arising which need to be addressed or team members are becoming distracted by other priorities and losing the motivation. By staying connected with the team members individually and monitoring the energy of the team, the leader can make best use of the advantages of face to face meetings.
- The leader of a virtual team should proactively and regularly engage with team members who are the outliers of the team due to logistics. For instance, those members who are sitting in a different office, country or continent than the majority of the team. Think about Sharon in Boston, Ian in London and the rest of the team are in two factories in Sweden. The team leader needs to devote extra attention to Sharon and Ian so that they know they are heard, valued and do not feel isolated from the rest of the team.
- Leading a virtual team often means leading a multi-cultural team. Emotional intelligence is a key component of building cultural competence, however, the leader plays an important role in the realizing the advantages of the diversity on his team. Specifically, through words and behaviours the leader informs the team about his or her attitude to diversity – is the leader respectful of other perspectives, does she provide a place where diverse behaviours are tolerated, does he encourage and provide time for team members to share ideas and create together. A leader who is aware of his own feelings and assumptions about diversity, and is willing to develop his own cultural competence can have a significant impact on the success of this team and the development of the team members.
These are just a few examples of the impact of emotional intelligence. Learn more about emotional intelligence and find some personal assessments for yourself on the internet. For more information about leading and working on a multicultural virtual team, contact Theresa Sigillito Hollema firstname.lastname@example.org