How do you keep a team cohesive and focused during such a project? How do you make sure everyone is working their respective tasks and you’re consistently getting closer to a working end solution? Are meetings important? Communication is always critical and meetings are probably more important than ever on an engagement like the one I’m describing here. When you’re running meetings on an engagement like this where everyone is remote and may never meet face-to-face, there are three things you need to ensure are always happening…
Meticulously prepare for every meeting. It’s always important to prepare well for every meeting – detailed agenda prepared and delivered to all attendees, status report sent out in advance, revised schedule delivered in advance, budget and resource analysis info sent out in advance, and issues/risks lists sent out in advance. These items should drive the weekly discussions with your team. Because you won’t see body language and because one formal team meeting every week maybe your only real communication with some or all of your team – make sure this info is as accurate and up to date as possible going into the meeting and get everyone’s revisions on the tasks as you review them during the meeting – even if you are using collaborative PM software during the engagement. Collaborative software is only as good and accurate as the people using it allow it to be. Assume you may still be missing key information that would otherwise fall through the cracks.
Make sure there is some light faire in every meeting. Generally, I don’t condone much of this. However, when conference call meetings are about the only chance you have – other than emails – to exchange communication with team members and get to know them – then by all means have some light conversation. Make a point to go around the virtual table and ask everyone how every thing is going and what’s new – personally. Keep it light – and short…”what did you do this past weekend” etc. It’s important for team cohesiveness – especially when this is the only chance everyone will get to personally connect with each other.
Follow-up with notes and ask for revisions. Often your team meeting is a prelude to the detailed, formal weekly customer status call…that also includes the team. So you must come out of the team call with all project information as deadly accurate as possible. Especially when you’re managing a remote team. Send out notes from the weekly team meeting to all attendees and ask for revisions within ‘x’ amount of time – usually 24 hours. Not everyone hears everything the same and you may have mis-interpreted a team member’s update on task progress, etc. Now is your chance to make sure you have it correct. Once all revisions are in, send out a new version of the notes.
I’ve managed projects almost entirely remotely for the past 9 years – with great success. And throughout all that time I’ve stuck to these three practices – among others - when handling weekly virtual team meetings. Some projects require more meetings than others – some even require several team meetings per week. But these principles still remain the same. Follow these and you are very likely going to have the same success I’ve had managing my remote project staff. They keep the team up to date, focused and accountable for their tasks and task progress and they keep the team working cohesively together even though they may never meet face-to-face.
Thoughts? Do you often manage remote teams? What other things would you add to this as “must do’s” to keep your virtual team members engaged and focused?