When managing a team of remote employees, how do you know if you have a healthy team? When you don’t see your team all of the time, it can be tough to discover team issues. However, there are many symptoms that can indicate signs of trouble. If identified early enough, and corrected with the right management prescription, you can heal a team’s problem areas. Below are some key symptoms and their corresponding remedies.
- The team doesn’t work together – In general does the team not collaborate or reach out to each other for idea sharing? Is it a team of independent mavericks working like independent entities? If so, this could be a clear sign that they don’t feel like they are a cohesive unit. They may not rely on other team members because they don’t recognize the value in them, or they are not aware of what they can offer them.
Managers can correct this type of team ailment, by building a team culture and finding ways for team to work together. This will need to be continuously reinforced when opportunities arise:
- Create a sense of “team” by finding opportunities to get them to feel like they belong to a team and generating team “spirit.” Create a team identity with a team logo, mission statement or motto. Reinforce it by getting your team personal items that contain this logo or motto such as shirts, hats or coffee mugs. Have the team participate as a group to come up with this motto.
- Find opportunities to celebrate with the team. Highlight successes on calls (both individual and group). Share funny stories about times together.
- Find opportunities for team members to work on projects together. Pair up people who wouldn’t normal work together or who haven’t formed a visible bond. If there are no current projects to pair them up on, have them come up with some best practices for a team issue, and share them with the team at the next call or meeting.
- The “It’s not my job” syndrome – Do members of the team avoid helping others or avoid taking on extra tasks for the good of the team? Are they never willing to go above and beyond when a project needs it? Are they “to busy?” This could be an indicator that employees don’t feel supported, or don’t feel that there is any benefit for doing something outside of their job. This can happen when major change happens in a company, if that change isn’t handled via good change management steps. It can also happen if employees are over taxed or there are no clear job goals. This symptom will also appear if there is a fear of job loss due to recent large company layoffs, or the threat of layoffs.
The best strategies for these issues involves priority and goal setting with employee involvement in setting their own goals, change management to prepare for upcoming company shifts, reinforcing and rewarding desired behaviors.
- Employees who are always handed their goals and priorities, will not feel ownership in them and can become demotivated. Many managers find that if they ask their employees what goals they want to obtain (rather than dictating them), employees will stretch and accomplish farther than the manager would have set. The most effective goal setting happens when priority and goal meetings are a continuous process between a manager and employee. Ideally set quarterly goals with weekly check in conversations. This helps employees stay focused on what is important to the team and company, and not lose sight by focusing on what they misperceive as important. Goal setting also helps employees see the future (with them in it) if there are recent company layoffs.
- When companies are preparing for large changes, such as a new software implementation or processes, the best way to ensure employee buy in is to get them involved at the beginning, before the change happens. Get their opinions and feedback. Establish a change leader in each department to be involved in the initial pilot or development. They will help carry a positive message back to their teams and help squash negative grumblings.
- Are employees rewarded for going the extra mile? This doesn’t mean a monetary incentive, rather do they get positive accolades? Is there a perceived benefit if they go the extra mile: they get to see their ideas implemented, they are included in team decisions more often, they can become a product expert, etc. . . If there is no perceived benefit, they will stop stretching. Find way to reinforce the positive results of putting in the extra distance.
- Employees don’t take initiative – If your employees don’t think out of the box or take initiative and need approval/affirmation for every little thing, it could be a good indicator that they are micro-managed. When employees are not self-motivated, or seem to need a lot of hand holding, it means that they haven’t been trained, or encouraged, to make decisions or take initiatives without getting prior approval from their manager. If they are always told what to do, they won’t do anything unless you tell them.
To stop the micro-management, find opportunities for employees to manage themselves. Set parameters for them to work within, then let them make their own decisions within them. Put systems in place for them to hold themselves accountable and encourage them to take initiatives.
- Set up the parameters for employees to work within, and define the end goal, but then let them make their own decisions within those parameters in reaching that goal. Like putting up bumper guards at a bowling alley, the guards are the rules they need to play within, and the goal is to hit down all 10 pins. However, how many times they bounce off the guards, how fast the ball goes, if there is a curve or spin on it, etc., are all up to the employee.
- Find ways for employees to hold themselves accountable. If as a manager, you have to constantly ask employees if they have completed their tasks or met their goals, you will be wasting too much of your time that could be focused on more important strategic or macro view items. Also, employees will resent you if you have to do this. Instead, have employees track their own progress. Work with them to set goals, and have them report weekly on how they are accomplishing those goals. No one wants to come to their manager and tell them they did a bad job. This self-accountability will free you up as a manager, and self-motivate your employees to reach goals.
- Encourage self-decision making through including them in team decisions and asking them their opinions. By soliciting employee feedback and involving them in decisions, you will be teaching them the skills they need to take initiative.
- Employees don’t apply or implement team policies or ideas – Do your employees implement team or company ideas or changes once they are informed of them? Or do they seem to go into one ear and out the other? They may be interpreting the message differently or may not know how to put it into practice.
To ensure that new ideas or policies actually get implemented, find ways to repeat and reinforce the message not only verbally, but within practice. If ideas are just mentioned once and then you move on to the next, your employees will do the same. It takes at least 12 times to make something a habit, so if you don’t get your employees to act on the idea at least 12 times, it will disappear.
- Are messages being clearly and consistently conveyed by all of management? You want to make sure that the entire management team is on board and finding opportunities to repeat the message and its importance. Repetition of the message by different persons, will also help bring clarity to employees of what the exact message is.
- Are messages and decisions being reinforced with actions? You can’t tell a team something once and forget about it. You need to make sure that examples of the message are identified and incorporated in everyday practice. Conduct action learning to practice the new idea. Engage employees by bringing it up in conversations with them and ask how they have implemented it.
Employee’s consistently don’t meet deadlines or goals – have employees set their own goals, have them hold themselves accountable