Inclusive leadership in remote teams

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— Click, Barcelona, Spain. 1 p.m.

— Click, New York, U.S.A. 7 a.m.

— Click, Tokyo, Japan. 8 p.m.

— Click, New Delhi, India. 4:30 p.m.

“Hi guys! Is anyone there?“

Inclusive Leadership

And so begins a GVT (Global Virtual Team) meeting, a team working in a 100% virtual format from different geographical locations. 

As difficult as it is leading a team, it is even much more tricky when it comes to remote teams. That’s where inclusive leadership comes into play as the will to create a diverse team that includes all its members, committed to the project and to each other.

GVT’s (Global Virtual Teams) face a series of barriers that are not so relevant in face-to-face dynamics:

  • Technology and Time Zone
  • Language and Culture
  • Communication 

Global, Virtual and Team?

Members of virtual teams face the risk of feeling emotionally disconnected. As a result, you may lose one of the most significant elements in the success of a project: the commitment of both parties.

The team members located at the company headquarters have an advantage: in addition to having more resources at their fingertips, they also have a closer relationship with the project leader.

Unconsciously, this position generates a sense of being a separate team that translates into some distance from the relationship they have with their international colleagues in the global team.

On the other hand, there are small or one-man local teams that feel more isolated from the group.

To solve this disparity, an inclusive leader would foster a sense of team, preventing expressions such as “Indian team” or “Japanese team”, referring instead to their function or area (marketing, engineers, programmers, product …).

To avoid the isolation of small groups or one-person members, it is important to encourage them to be actively involved in decision-making, regularly contact them to discuss the processes in place and thank them for a good job.

Emphasizing that there is a common purpose and everyone is needed to achieve it, avoids this type of conflict.

Let’s connect five minutes before and tell me!

Encouraging a few minutes of casual conversation before each meeting allows personal contact between team members, creating bonds of trust and emotional connections between them. This is a great way tip to practice inclusive leadership.

In the case of GVTs, this space should be part of the daily routine, an area where anyone can chat about topics such as holidays, tastes, events, personal comments, even about work, but in a more informal way.

It should be a space of trust, where they can express themselves freely and honestly.

“I can’t connect right now, give me a minute”

Does it sound familiar? This has happened to all of us at some point.

In virtual teams, whose primarily form of communication is through technology, malfunctioning is a major inconvenience and a source of frustration for the person who suffers from it.

The team leader should make sure that each member of the team has the technology they need along with the training in its use to avoid any further issues.

trabajo remoto

An inclusive leadership overcomes the barriers with an emotional (EQ) and cultural intelligence (CQ) approach.

      Photo by Chris Montgomery – @Unsplash

“What time is it in …?”

It’s 7 in the morning in New York and 8 in the afternoon in Tokyo. The former got up early and the latter got home/disconnected very late.

Time difference due to geographical location is a major barrier.

Helping the whole team understand the time zone differences and the least disruptive times to talk to each other is essential to avoid conflicts.

Let’s set up some rules:

One solution that can solve these differences is to establish common rules regarding communication either in virtual meetings as well as outside of them.

These common rules should define:

  • What material is sent by email or other similar means
  • Which one by instant message or direct phone call
  • the schedule of each team member in order to receive phone/ conference calls
  • Resolution of any doubts: when and how
  • Above all, encourage Q&A sessions with the person in charge. These sessions are essential to avoid the frustration of those who cannot do it in person. It is the responsibility of the manager to offer everyone a way to reach him that fits into their agendas

“Can you repeat yourself, please?”

Language can also be a source of conflict.

For remote teams adopting a “lingua franca”, a common language to communicate, does not prevent conflicts from happening.

Non-native speakers of that language have an additional barrier that can be very important when developing a project.

In our typical team, English is the common language. For both, the members of the USA and for those of New Delhi (whose official languages are Hindi and English) it is their native language.

As a leader of a remote team, establishing a series of good practices can mitigate those difficulties:

  • Send an agenda in advance with the points to be covered so that the less fluent team members can prepare their intervention
  • Know the level of each team member
  • Ask the native speakers of that language to express themselves in the simplest way possible, without intricate phrases or idiomatic expressions,
  • Repeat the most important points and request feedback from the rest of the colleagues to make sure that it has been understood
  • Encourage everyone to participate, facilitate a safe and respectful environment for people who are not fluent or find it difficult to participate

“Is everything clear?”

In addition to the linguistic drawback, there are major differences in the way of communicating between different cultures.

In some of them the communication style is direct, they express just what they have to say, and in others it is indirect, you have to pay attention to the context (as is the case of Asian cultures and, to a lesser extent, others like Spain)

If it is already difficult to understand the context in a face-to-face meeting, it is much more complicated when it comes to a virtual meeting.

In response to this direct question from the person in charge, the colleagues from the USA will answer clearly or ask if they have any doubts.

This may not be the case with other team members because they do not understand the context in which the leader speaks or because they try to avoid the conflict of having a different point of view or they are ashamed to ask about something they have not understood.

Let’s discuss this point …

Tsedal Neeley, in an article based on his book “The language of global success”, comments on the case of a developer in Istanbul who, despite seeing a problem in the project discussed at the meeting well in advance, he did not dare to expose it because the environment created in the meetings did not encourage debate. In fact, four weeks later appeared the problems he had seen time ago. If he had spoken at the time, many headaches would have been avoided.

To avoid these situations, the team leader can “force the conflict”, that is, invite team members to share, with respect and kindness, their ideas and points of view that are not alligned with the most relevant comments.

Using phrases like “I like this idea … let’s discuss it a bit more” or “do you think there is any risk or negative point that we have not discussed?” can help to foster discussion.

“What ‘s up?”

Fostering a space where diversity of opinions is allowed is not enough for some people due to their character or culture.

Feedback tools, such as Happyforce, help to bring the team together and allow its members to communicate in a transparent, honest and anonymous way at the same time.

This solution allows to overcome those barriers in many situations given that the team expresses its opinion anonymously and without the pressure of an immediate response.

And, what is more important, it helps the person in charge to assess the work environment and follow the pulse of his team. It’s a great way to detect and correct possible setbacks and take care of everyone’s emotional well-being.

We are a team!

Throughout this process of adaptation and integration of team members, inclusive leadership is the key, not only to create a cohesive team, but also to foster innovation and productivity.

— Alma

If you liked this article on inclusive leadership, we invite you to learn about other topics on the Happyforce blog, don’t miss it!

To know more:

The Language of Global Success, Tsedal Neeley

The Culture Map, Erin Meyer

If you want to know how Happyforce can help you to meet your goals, we invite you to visit us HEREInc