Education, Teams, Workforce Development

Virtual Team Success: 10 Best Practices for Managing a Global, Remote Team [Example]

We Live in Different Time Zones and We Work on Different Things Are We Really a Team?

“Welcome on board, Sophie!” I cheer over the phone, to our latest scientific team member. She’s joining our international team from a university in Germany. Some of us on the team know each other well, and others are strangers, people from other fields whose expertise was selected to try to create that elusive synergy that’s supposed to result from bringing many creative minds together on an interdisciplinary project.

Little did I suspect the challenges ahead. Not everyone shared a great sense of generosity in adding other authors onto their peer-reviewed papers, or in sharing samples to other labs that will do parallel analyses that may not agree with their own. Not everyone wanted to integrate other data into their results. But luckily many did. And these were primarily the people who had bonded from having done field work together, or having spent time together at workshops.

Remote Teams and Setting Meeting Norms

Over the five years of that project we learned a lot about the Siberian flood basalts and their causal relationship with the end-Permian extinction, and I think I may have learned even more about the complexities of running international, interdisciplinary teams. In the end, I think I was about 75% successful in creating the scientific synergies I had hoped for.

From that, and experience with several subsequent bigger and even more interdisciplinary teams, here are ten ideas for creating a sense of mutual loyalty, enthusiasm, and teamwork in your multi-time-zone, multi-expertise, multi-everything modern team:

1. Start by building a great team.

Well, duh…but it’s much more than their experience or reputation. Only pick people you enjoy working with. It’s only going to get more challenging ahead, not easier! As my colleague says, Rule #1 is No Jerks. (And don’t be one yourself, if you can help it!) Set your culture. Culture is everything.

2. Know your goals, and choose team members with expertise that is absolutely required to reach those goals.

That way, everyone is needed, no one is “extra,” all knowledge is respected and listened to.

3. Write quarterly milestones for your team.

These should be agreed on by everyone and tracked at every meeting. Remember...

Clarity is what creates motivation.
Tracking is what creates awareness.
Reporting is what creates accountability.

4. Have regular virtual meetings, but not just for the sake of having something on the schedule.

See our Beagle Learning meeting norms, at bottom. They’ve been serving us well!

5. Celebrate all your successes and accept setbacks as normal — learn from them.


6. Meet in person!

Get together for at least one big celebratory meal at each in-person meeting. Talk about your families and your pets. Make that critical human connection.

7. Think about the Quaker tradition of not speaking a second time in a meeting until each person has spoken once.

Try to hear every voice.

8. Use technology.

Communicate on Slack, set up your tasks and goals in Trello, use a common videochat platform for all meetings (we use appear.in). Don’t do in a meeting what can be done in email; don’t do in email what can be done in a message or on Trello.

9. For teams that meet less often, consider a weekly one-minute video update from each subteam.


10. Rather than updating by person in meetings, update by topic, with each topic aligned to the team’s quarterly milestones.

This aids integration and inter-reliance, and better keeps everyone’s attention. Each reporter has to learn what each person working on their milestone has done. As an example, here’s the part of this week’s Beagle agenda that I need to fill in, and then brief the team upon:

Lindy's Example Meeting Agenda

Technology is the enabler for far-flung teams, but personal relationships, as ever with humans, are the key. Try to behave as a leader the way you would like the whole team to behave. Good luck, and go update your Trello cards!

Please tweet us your thoughts at @beaglelearning and tell us if you have any items you would add to our lists!


As promised above, here are the Beagle Learning meeting norms, created by Turner Bohlen, the CEO of Beagle Learning:

Norman: The Beagle Meeting Norms Monster

Setting Meeting Norms Can Be Hard
Bugs Bunny and the monster Rudolf (Gossamer), copyright Warner Brothers

Overview

To be as productive and comfortable a team as possible, we need to set clear expectations of one another. We need to limit wasted time in inefficient (or worse — boring!) meetings.

This list of meeting norms is meant to help keep us all on the same page.

It highlights how we at Beagle run and participate in meetings.

Preparation

  • Agenda written and shared via Google Drive at least 12 hours ahead of time
  • Agenda highlights the key purpose of the meeting
  • Method of communication (default: appear.in) shared 12 hours before meeting
  • Ensure this meeting is the best way to solve the problem at hand
  • Get the right people in the room. Ensure everyone is there for a reason
  • All attendees read the agenda and fill in their sections and post at least two hours before the meeting begins
  • If you are invited to a meeting that you think does not meet one of these requirements, say so!

Meeting

  • Arrive a few minutes before the start time, even if you can only be in listen-only mode
  • Organizer specifies roles at the beginning of the meeting. Important ones: Time keeper, Scribe, Trello Card Master
  • No withholding! Share discomforts, confusions, critiques relevant to the conversation
  • Critiques are constructive and welcome. We are open to learning from our mistakes always
  • If you are confused, it is your responsibility to ask a question!
  • Leader should pay attention to the personalities in the room. Find ways of getting everyone involved (e.g. invite a shy person for input)
  • Define clear action items for post-meeting (Trello Card Master records)
  • Every meeting ends with a meeting evaluation: each members has 20 seconds to share one thing to keep doing in future meetings & one thing to improve
  • End every meeting on time

Results and Follow-up

  • The agenda for each week contains the notes and stays on Google Drive for reference
  • Trello contains all action items

Please tweet us your thoughts at @beaglelearning and tell us if you have any items you would add to our lists!

Author image

About Lindy Elkins-Tanton

Lead of NASA Psyche mission; School of Earth and Space Exploration and Interplanetary Initiative at ASU; co-founder of Beagle Learning (www.beaglelearning.com)
  • Phoenix, Arizona