The importance of Human Bonds
With the increased rise in virtual teams, the skills that the modern leader needs are shifting. Leaders must increasingly reach into the “Matrix” of the virtual working world and awaken the human bonds which engage individuals and teams. Recent studies with teams show that although we continue to find technological ways to connect, the real bond is the connection between humans and the good feelings this creates within us all.
When we feel happy various neurochemicals such as oxytocin are released into our brains which make us feel more bonded with others. Individuals need to feel trusted and have an authentic bond with their group. This bond will unplug them from robotic task orientation and foster a genuine engagement to perform above and beyond.
It’s becoming obvious that we need to harness these bonds so that our teams become high performing especially in the face of increased globalisation, unprecedented change and competition. So how do we as leader’s foster trust when some of our teams may never even have met face to face? We need to harness trust if we have any hope of engaging the hearts as well as the minds of our team members. There are 3 key facets to this. They are: Make the link to Strategic Goals; Agree spontaneous Ways of Working and Celebrate Diversity.
Leaders need to spend time talking with each individual daily, understanding their diversity and unique contribution to the team. Individual Team members need to be given the space to manage and plan their work and methods of achieving their priorities. This is especially important as managers can’t monitor everything from a distance when teams are virtual- so leaders need to become more results rather than input focused.
Virtual leaders need to develop more of a coaching style to interpret how the team members are feeling. They need to listen for tone of voice, words used and how employees speak as an opportunity to interpret body language will only be partial. Open questions will help individuals improve their own self- awareness and work through different problem-solving options. Understanding each individual’s strengths and showing the group that these are valued, is vital to demonstrate that different skills, personalities, cultures and circumstances are celebrated within the team.
Diversity of opinions should be fostered to improve overall trust and commitment between team members. The leader needs to ensure that there is fairness in terms of workload spread. By allowing each person a say the leader can help team members develop more trust in their own abilities – and those of fellow team members.
“By fostering diversity the leader makes it safe to voice unique opinions. Safety fosters trust. And trust is essential for a high performing team.”
Agree on Spontaneous Ways of Working
Ways of working in Virtual teams should strengthen the bonds between team members. The team should agree what values, relationships and processes to use across all communication platforms. These ways of working should have a blend of structure and spontaneity in order to mirror human interactions more closely. Emotional bonds are strengthened by authenticity so there should be input from all and ways of working should be realistic (sometimes even messy), allowing for contribution, interruption and reshaping. Feedback and disagreement should be encouraged. Although relevant for some meetings, very structured processes can inhibit sharing especially virtually if everyone is muted waiting for a speaker to finish. Whether it’s creating a virtual coffee break during meetings, quizzes and fun themes, adding a social channel on Slack or getting together for a virtual cocktail making session- agreeing spontaneous ways of working will help your team relax and get to know each other as people. This is turn fosters trust, essential for High Performance.
Make the link to Strategic Goals
Linking virtual teams to strategic goals and agreeing on spontaneous ways of working will increase trust. Increased trust is a vital component of High Performing Teams. Teams need to understand their link to the wider organisation in order to align their empathy and then their efforts to its cause. This is where the strategy needs to be linked to the team’s objectives and indeed those of each individual. Each team should know their purpose, similar to an elevator speech which could be visually displayed on dashboards and should be spoken about regularly. The objectives should be SMART-specific, measurable, attainable, timely and realistic.
Daily updates on company progress using a balanced scorecard method of Finance, People, Operations and Customers will give teams a constant link with the wider company. By understanding their own contribution and that of their immediate team, employees will feel a greater bond with their company. And greater bonds of trust foster higher performance.