How do you engage a team that isn’t there!

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A few months ago I was fortunate enough to see a talk by Ange Postecoglou, the Socceroo’s Football Manager. In a fascinating talk he spoke about managing Australia’s National team at the world cup and how to get the best from his players through leadership focused on communication and language. There were many insights I took from the talk but I was itching to ask him a question. When it came to question time I raised my hand and asked him “How do you get the best from a team that is remote to you 99% of the season? How do you take a team who you will work with face to face for only a few days, who land from different clubs, countries, continents and cultures, engage them to train, perform and deliver a winning result on the field before they fly off and go back to their home clubs?”

I’m fascinated by this question. I know many of you out there lead remote teams. CEO’s and MD’s do it all the time with large teams in different states and countries. In most cases their teams work within their own company offices, live their values and vision day to day which are driven by regional leaders and managers. In many industries though, their teams work within other companies, absorbing other cultures and living other values.

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In Melbourne I lead an amazing team of around 30 very smart people. We deliver consultancy services to our clients making our people the most valuable part of the company, so to lead and engage my team is very important to me. I pride myself on my inclusive and empowerment leadership style, I’m very hands on and connected to my team. But what if your team aren’t sitting in your office, what if they were sitting in clients offices with different cultures and values?

With so many of my team out of the office it poses two problems in trying to engage them. First, having 80% of my team seconded, spread around the CBD in our client’s offices they become immersed in our clients, behaviours and culture, not ours. This leads to the possibility of my team becoming disconnected. Secondly, the team left back in the office can get disconnected from their team seconded team mates.

My dilemma was how to engage both teams, drive a common culture and vision of what we as a team are trying to achieve in our business and build great a team spirit. Time to get the thinking cap on! So let’s go back to my question to Ange Postecoglou. How did he engage and get the best performance from his remote team? Well his answer was both intriguing but maybe a little disappointing as it was an app!! Apparently the every player on the Socceroo squad has an app on their mobile. The purpose of this app is to promote an emotion of unity and engagement. They have to use the app every day to complete results that measure key indicators at their league clubs. The app asks questions about cardiovascular training, diet, sleep patterns and other health questions. When the measurements are inputted they are automatically sent to the doctors, physios, dieticians and coaching team who then monitor the performance of their players from the other side of the world. After the players have completed their daily metrics they get a message when they post them. This message says, and I’m adlibbing here, “Remember you are a Socceroo, everything you do is for the greater good of the Socceroo team and Australia, be proud and be strong”, Ange said it was a great reminder to all of the team that no matter where they were in the world, they were part of a great team and even though they were separated by great distance, they were a unit that lived one vision, one culture. He said that it in his opinion it really helped speed up the process bringing the team together and when they landed in building trust and respect.

Now at my work we don’t have an app.  Thinking about it, the only consistent weekly task we all have to do is our Timesheet on a Friday afternoon. Maybe we should have a message once it’s submitted, reinforcing that we are one team, that we have one unified vision that unites us so that when we come together we understand the importance of what it is to be a cohesive team!!!

We haven’t gone that far just yet!! So what are my top tips for engaging a team that just isn’t there?

  • Communication, Communication, Communication – Giving feedback on what’s happening in the business is vital. Introducing meetings and communication tools that attempt to bring the team together with a common message that reinforces our team spirit, our culture and our vision is very important. We have introduced weekly stand up meetings in both our office and the seconded offices where we share the week’s events and success. Weekly news letters are issued for those who couldn’t attend the stand-up meetings and monthly “Pow Wow” team meetings are held to celebrate our team’s achievements.
  • Accessibility – Being available to speak to your team, one on one or as a group is vital. Time is always tough but to engage a remote team they need to have access to you to discuss their issues. I make myself available as much as possible and find it very rewarding.
  • New Ideas – The introduction of new ideas is vital. New ideas on the way we work and even the way we think are openly encouraged. We have a monthly “T-Tank” team meeting where we are all invited to attend and share stories about the business, innovate through thinking differently put forward zany out of the box thinking that might just turn into our next venture or change the way we deliver our services to clients for the better.
  • Social Connections – We all work very long hours. Getting to know the whole team and the team knowing each other is key. At our Pow Wows we have a 3 slide in 3 minutes segment where two of our team each month have 3 minutes to tell us something about them that we don’t know. We also have monthly social get-togethers again to get the team to get to know each other and build relationships outside of work for those who want to.

I’m not saying I have all the answers. Engaging a team and driving an exciting and lively culture over distance is tough. We are making great strides and achieving great results but there is always room for improvement.

The above are some of our ideas on how to achieve success, but I’d be fascinated to hear your view on the subject and ideas of how to best engage a team that just not there

 

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