Virtual working is on the rise. Leaders must adapt management of high-performance teams to meet the needs of remote working. Catherine Bardwell, TPC Leadership UK Associate Partner, uses four pillars to explain the main challenges facing high-performance virtual teams:

1. Catering for different personality profiles

While extroverts may be suited to speaking up in the virtual environment, introverts will need more encouragement and scaffolding to share their full potential. Some personalities suffer from the lack of routine and discipline that can manifest in remote working, while others might struggle to demonstrate sufficient digital literacy to engage effectively.

2. Technology

It’s important to be open to new ideas in terms of digital technology. “Don’t shy away from using different tools,” says Catherine. “Leaders and teams need to understand how to utilise technology such as Zoom and WhatsApp at an operational level, but also consider how that technology can be used to help virtual teams to bond.”

3. Performance

It can be more difficult to get a handle on performance development when managing teams virtually. Team leaders need to focus on their team’s experiential learning but also their skills and training.

4. Building trust and intimacy

Long-distance relationships don’t always work, says Catherine, and virtual teams can suffer a similar fate. It is the job of the team leader to find ways to maintain trust and intimacy by allowing people to speak up and express themselves freely and safely in a virtual setting.

Andrea Cardillo, TPC Leadership, Managing Partner in Italy, suggests a strategy known as the CLOCKS model as a way for teams to observe and fine tune the way they work. “It can be particularly useful at board level where conversations are often content heavy — with a focus on strategy and operations — while in fact more time needs to be given to reflecting on the function, relationships, culture and dynamics of the team itself.”

The CLOCKS model

CLOCKS is an acronym for six dimensions and processes needed for a team to be successful.

CCommon goals and vision. “Ensure the team has clarity and alignment regarding what they’re doing and why,” says Andrea. “Make a clear distinction between the big picture — the organisational vision — and the team’s vision and purpose.”

L — Leadership. This isn’t only about having the right leaders but deciding on the best leadership style to drive progress in your team.

O — Organisation and governance. “Ensure clarity and a thorough understanding of how the decision-making process is structured,” says Andrea. “Governance must be appropriately leveraged and business models suitably agile.”

C — Communication routines. Some communication routines are technical, for example deciding on the best technology to facilitate meetings and operational communications. But Andrea explains, “It’s also essential to explore how we communicate to foster positive relationships and dynamics within the team — how we communicate to maintain a level of trust and intimacy, and how we handle conflict.”

K — Knowledge. Develop a thorough assessment of knowledge, skills and competencies needed to achieve the team’s goals.

S — Stakeholders Management Strategy. There can be a tendency to delegate upwards. But Andrea emphasises the importance of sharing a common responsibility and “navigating relationships together as a single entity, in a way which is aligned.”

Top tips to synchronise CLOCKS

Using a framework like CLOCKS keeps things simple. Reflect on each of the dimensions, then share and discuss them openly with your team. Andrea suggests using a 20/80 approach. Identify one area you could improve by 20% that will give you an 80% improvement in results. Prepare an action plan, work through it, and review it. Then address your next priority following the same process.

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