COVID-19 is about to change the working environment for thousands of people. As offices go on lockdown – people will have to work from home. In some cases, organisations will have to switch to virtual working overnight. In this article, I share some practical tools to help leaders build trust and innovate virtually.
Leaders will need to adapt to the challenge of managing distributed teams.
Leaders can’t rely on the conversations in the corridor, or brainstorm sessions in meeting rooms. The virtual manager can’t manage by walking around. ‘Command and control’ at a distance is impossible; they are going to have to trust the members of their team to solve problems, think creatively, and take the initiative when opportunities come up. If they wait for the manager to give them instructions every time they need to make a decision; this spells trouble.
The Challenges Facing Virtual Leaders
- Virtual team members often feel isolated and demotivated. There’s never enough time to explain their environment and challenges to the boss.
- People are easily side-tracked – especially in Virtual teams where the local environment introduces competing priorities and distractions
- Trust levels in virtual teams tend to be lower than in teams that sit together.
The Importance of Trust
Some say that the only factor necessary to create efficient virtual teams is to buy the right technology. This is not true since it’s all about the people, and it ultimately comes down to trust.
Building trust is the foundation for effective virtual teams. Having led virtual teams for 15 years in my corporate career, I found that trust reduces the distance between the leader and team. It took me a while to realise this important fact. The closer the connection forged between people and purpose, the higher the potential for powerful performance.
In virtual teams, the ability to trust individuals to ‘do the right thing’ – especially when supervision is impracticable is critical. A virtual leader must establish the high trust relationships that will underpin the alignment of goals, the clarification of responsibilities and the winning of commitment.
It gets even more challenging. Businesses will also need to become ever more innovative to meet the challenges of the next few months. It’s a double whammy.
The Need for Rapid Innovation to meet the Challenges created by Coronavirus
The urgent need to adapt to new ways of working calls for rapid Innovation. What do I mean by Innovation? I covered this topic in a post earlier this year.
In short, Innovation occurs at many levels. It can be a new process, a novel way of marketing, or an everyday improvement to make things simpler or more affordable. It does not need to be a radically new product or service. The reality is that businesses will need to implement innovations at multiple levels at the same time as having their workforce fragmented.
How can we make Innovation Happen in a Virtual World?
The Key to virtual Innovation is to create a high trust culture that values and therefore enables thinking or cognitive diversity. I have found the below framework useful – it comes from Axiometrics ®. This framework is based upon Robert S Hartman’s work that established 3 Dimension of Value – for which he received a nomination for a Nobel Prize. His field is known as formal axiology from which Axiometrics has been developed. If you’d like to find out more, below is the link to an article I wrote last year.
It is essential to have balance in your activities across People, Task and System. For example, if you find that you are too Task focussed and neglect People and System, you will not build trust. Check that you are practising the points in the strengths column and not slipping into the behaviours in the toxic column.
Innovation Leadership Skills Tool
I want to end with a practical tool to help all the unexpected Virtual Leaders develop their Innovation Leadership Skills. It’s a quick and dirty self-assessment exercise they conduct do under the below three areas. From the self-assessment, they will identify areas to work on to improve their Innovation Leadership Skills. Click below to see the full tool.
You won’t be required to provide any personal information to download the tool. Please note, this is not the actual report which those that have taken the Axiometrics ® profile receive.
It’s time to wrap up this article
- The Axiometrics ® online “thinking” exercise only takes 15 minutes to complete
- You rearrange two sets of 18 statements – from most to least preferred
- There are no questions
- There are 6.4 quadrillion possible outcomes
- There are over 85 different types of report and profiles
- It does not attempt to classify you or label you as a ‘type’ e.g. ENTJ or Dominant
- Is not discriminatory for age, sex, creed or culture and is validated by the EEOC
- It can be used to look at current performance, but also to predict future performance
- Has applications across the entire talent lifecycle, e.g., Recruitment, Personal and Professional Development, Retention, Succession Planning, Team-working
- It can inform training needs analysis and the design of training and coaching focus
- Rigorously define and measure decision-capacities against a culture benchmark
I hope you found this interesting. Please let me know what you think. If you ‘like’ or comment on this article, We will send you the excel versions of the tool which will be more user-friendly for you to use. If you would like a more accurate and objective understanding of how to build trust in virtual teams and assess Leadership Innovation skills, We’d be pleased to have a conversation to share more about my experience of leading virtual teams and the application of Axiometrics ®.