Virtual Teams Need a Different Kind of Leadership

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jul 23

When you think of a traditional leader in your work, what is the first attribute that comes to your mind? For most, the attributes would be a person motivates, provides direction and works to find new paths for the team. A person out in front with team members following them.

Yet, in today’s virtual team environment, this type of leadership style misses the critical issues a virtual team faces. We need a new leadership style to match today’s virtual team work environment.

Over time, teams have become more diverse in companies. This makes sense as working remotely has become more commonplace. And I don’t mean working remotely as in working from home, I mean working remotely as in a different time zone, country or continent.

Because team members are spread throughout the globe, each team member comes from a background that is very different than other team members.

How different?

Different food. Different culture. Different family structure or decision-making. Different educational process. Different career management viewpoints. Different management styles. Different.

Yet, despite these differences, virtual teams still need to deliver work to their company.

Traditional leadership styles don’t work in this type of environment because traditional leadership styles assume a relatively homogeneous background of each team member. In today’s work environment, that is not the case.

The case for “collaborative translator” leadership

What do Cubicle Warriors need to do to become effective leaders on their team? I call it the “collaborative translator.” Here are the attributes that are more important today:

  • Finding common ground then building. Each team is unique. The leader will find the common characteristics between the team members and then build these characteristics into a whole so that the team has a common base of values and perspectives.
  • Understanding each team member’s strength. You want to have the right people doing the stuff that fits best to a person’s strengths on the team. This improves the overall ability of the team to produce work with less stress. Knowing each person’s strength and then suggesting the type of work – or getting the right kind of help for your work – is critical to moving work along.
  • Translating how the parts fit together. Just as a language translator takes a set of words to another language, this role on a virtual team means you translate what another is doing in a language each team member understands. This is not an easy skill to learn remembering that each team member has a diverse background, culture, and even primary language.
  • Finally, identifying common solutions to team issues and translating the solution in a way that each team member understands. Think of yourself as the chief negotiator facing a panel of dissimilar people with a problem. Your job is to broker a solution. Being able to solve issues in a way each team member understands promotes work getting completed by the team.

You don’t have to be a member of a large corporate team with other members on different continents for these leadership attributes to work. Our global society has become diverse – with multiple niches – where the person sitting next to you who lives next door leads a completely different life than you do.

Being the collaborative translator creates leadership opportunities for you.