In recent years, increasingly I have been asked to provide virtual team coaching, particularly for those teams who don’t work in close proximity to one another. Often, teams that used to meet regularly, faced with the need to cut costs and improve efficiency, find themselves working remotely and with limited opportunity to get together
Paradoxically as organisations harness advances in technology to enable remote working, I also notice some downsides - team members feeling a sense of isolation, reduced communication and reduced team cohesion. We are social animals and there is a substantial body of research that highlights the very real human need we have to connect, and its role in employee engagement and performance. It is important, therefore, that as organisations move towards more remote working they consciously pay attention to the human aspect of being part of a team, and ensure they find creative ways of replicating the face to face team experience.
Virtual team coaching brings together individuals, who are working remotely from each other, in one virtual space, where they can reflect on how they work together as a team in order to best serve the needs of the organisation. In some teams each person may be remote from everyone else, in others a few team members have been in the same room whilst others have joined separately.
The focus of virtual team coaching, much like any team coaching that takes place face to face can vary widely depending on the needs of the team. And, peculiar to the virtual setting, there may be an emphasis on how the team works together given the remote context of day to day working. Some of the topics brought to team coaching include:
The key to success is ensuring that the best possible environment is created where teams do feel they can genuinely connect and communicate. Thankfully with some of the sophisticated technology now available, creating effective virtual environments to bring together teams is now possible. Below are some top tips for ensuring that virtual team coaching is both effective:
If you are part of the team that requires coaching or don’t have team coaching experience yourself, consider engaging an external coach. Using a professional coach external to the team ensures that all team members participate in the discussion without having to manage the process of coaching too. When choosing a coach, ensure that they have an adequate level of experience of working with teams…and virtually. Both require a set of skills that ensure that the team is focused on what they want to achieve rather than being distracted by the process of running the session or managing the technology. The tips below will help you to ask potential questions to ensure any coach you choose will be able to offer the best support for your team.
Your organisation may already use virtual platforms for running remote meetings so you may have in mind the technology you will use. However there are numerous platforms available now, that you may not have considered, with an increasing range of sophisticated features that are being developed. Many platforms have the functionality of breakout rooms, white boards, the facility to share documents and online chats..plus many more. Becoming familiar with what is available, their functionality, compatability with your current systems, and ease of use will help you decide what might suit your team.
Ensuring everyone is up to speed with technology beforehand helps to ensure everyone is coming to the call relaxed, no one feels at a disadvantage allowing each person’s brain to be receptive to engaging in the session.
Apart from being primed to work with the technology of the online platform, consider what other preparation can be done individually in advance. Some people need longer to reflect before contributing than others and in the virtual space those people, as in face to face meetings, may find it more difficult to contribute. Consider posing questions in advance that everyone can consider before meeting, saving time online, and giving the opportunity for everyone to have an input during the session.
In any team coaching scenario, a high level of trust needs to be built up to be able to explore the strengths, different perspectives and challenges that reside in the team. It can be easy to dive straight into business, especially when working virtually, and bypass those things that might prevent the team being fully present on the call. Time should be given to checking in with each other recognising that each person arrives with a unique set of thoughts, feelings, and emotions each time they join a call. Asking the following questions can provide a useful starting point: ‘how are you arriving at the call?’ ‘What is on your mind?’ ‘What needs to be said before the work can begin?’ ‘what do you need to share with the team before we start?’
An integral part of team coaching is agreeing how a team works together. Having a discussion up front about how the team works virtually adds another layer to this. One of the early discussions to have is to create some clear protocol for working virtually: How will we ensure everyone has a say? What is the procedure if someone wants to speak? What happens if someone drops off a call? What rules do we put in place to ensure everyone is present in the call?
One of the challenges I have come across is ensuring everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion, even if they choose not to. As with any meeting there will be some people who feel it easier to speak up than others. As well as encouraging pre-session preparation, as mentioned above, some of my favourites include: use of breakout rooms for small group discussions; using a ‘virtual circle’, a visual aid which shows each participant in a circle which can be used a reference by everyone to help take in turns speaking; agreeing visual cues such as a raised hand to indicate a member wants to speak.
As you design and prepare for your team coaching you need to be mindful of two contradictory factors. On the one hand working virtually, especially initially when grappling with technology things seem to take so much longer, yet on the other attention spans can be shorter so there is a need to keep the pace up. It is therefore important to design an intervention that balances both of these, seeking out creative ways to engage, keep the pace going and ensuring time isn’t wasted needlessly on sorting out problems with technology.
With a little creativity and thinking outside of the box there are all sorts of ways of engaging people online. Using breakout rooms for small group and paired discussions, using online chats, screen sharing and interactive documents to name but a few can all help. Instead of feeling bound by the technology, identify what you want to achieve and then ask ‘how can we achieve this virtually?’
Sitting in one place for long periods of time leads to fatigue and a reduction in concentration. Build in opportunities for participants to physically move during a session and build in breaks to re-charge the batteries.
If you have any comments on this article, or think that team coaching could benefit your organisation please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org