In this episode, Dr. Penny Pullan shares strategies for working on virtual project teams and helps us get the most out of virtual work.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • The challenges virtual project teams face
  • How we’re all leaders and need to work with teams
  • Why starting with yourself leads to better work for virtual teams
  • How to overcome challenges such as language barriers and time zone differences

Show Notes

The best form of communication is face-to-face with a whiteboard or another visual tool. However, the reality is that many teams aren’t co-located.  Virtual teams can have many challenges including culture difference, language barriers, time zones, and simply a lack of engagement and difficulty creating a shared understanding.


The Virtual Leadership Approach

Virtual leadership is applicable for any team of people who want to get things done together and at least one person is remote from the others.  Many traditional leadership approaches don’t work well with virtual teams; a different approach is needed.

The concept of virtual leadership goes beyond people management.  It’s an approach for working together and getting things done on a virtual team regardless of your role.

We all need to get things done with and through other people.  This approach is about working together to build a shared vision and leadership among the entire team.  The goal is to develop a team that can share and flex leadership depending on the specific task or situation.


Get Engagement

Whether your remote team member is on another floor or across the planet, one of the most common problems is the lack of engagement.  On conference calls, people fail to focus on the conversation or multitask instead of engaging with others.

Failing to call out and address this behavior only leads to more such behavior.

To address this problem, start by setting team norms.  This can be done when first forming the team and even at the start of each meeting.

Norms can include agreeing on ways the team communicates.  You may decide that as part of the meeting, you’ll do a quick round of polling every 10-15 minutes (or random intervals) by asking each person for input and having them say a word or two to ensure engagement and focus on the goal of the meeting.


Be a Better Virtual Leader

At the core of virtual leadership is the self.  You need to know yourself; your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.  This allows you to understand your current skills and where you need to grow (e.g., organizational skills and technology) to get better at virtual leadership.

The next stage is looking at working with others and how they work with you.  To be successful, you need to understand the people you’re working with along with their skills, preferences, and mindset.

Outside of knowing yourself and others, you’ll need to know how to use the technology that enables virtual communication.  You’ll also need to be able to work within meetings and between meetings.

After you’ve sharpened those skills, you can begin to deal with the challenges of virtual teams such as time zone differences, language barriers, cultural differences, generational differences, and other issues.

Penny Pullan's Virtual Leadership Model

Penny’s Virtual Leadership Model

To be an authentic virtual leader, start with yourself. Be present, work to build trust, and plan appropriately to engage virtual team members.

Listen to the full episode to understand how to be an effective virtual leader and overcome some of the challenges associated with virtual teams.



Your Homework

Prepare for virtual meetings by understanding yourself and others and build your skills to be effective in a virtual environment.  During meetings, be present and engage with others.

At the end of your virtual meeting, spend a few minutes to get input from the team as to what went well during the meeting and what can be improved.  Then take action and discuss progress at the beginning of the next meeting.


Links mentioned in this episode:

Dr. Penny Pullan

Dr. Penny Pullan

Dr. Penny Pullan is a consultant, mentor, speaker and author. Penny works with people in multinational organizations who are struggling with complex projects; those with ambiguous requirements, disengaged stakeholders, and geographically disbursed teams.  Her latest book is Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Virtual Teams and Virtual Work.  Penny also runs an annual virtual conference for Business Analysts.


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