Let's Change the Story

By Ray Atkinson
Chair - Henley Business School Leadership of Organisational Change Special Interest Group

"I'm spending most of my time travelling, with little time to really make a proper team contribution and I'm going home too exhausted to spend any quality time with my family."

What a difference six months can make!

This quote from a leader, who arrived at one of our recent workshops looking tired and grey, confirms that we’ve still got a lot to learn about Virtual Leadership.

Of course, he, along with thousands of others like him, although grounded, still needs to engage his team. Couple this with the increasing pressure to reduce the impact of travel on our environment, and this becomes a particularly appropriate time to consider whether our experience from this current crisis might lead us to change the story forever!  

For us, changing the story is about understanding three barriers common to all virtual team situations: geography, isolation and history. Geography: people seeing themselves as separate; Isolation: keeps them from knowing one another and History: their long-term experience of working in independent, not unified teams. It’s easy to say that increased use of technology can provide part of the answer, however there’s much more to it than that! So, how can a virtual leader:

  • Create unity behind the whole team, rather than local goals?
  • Tackle the relational challenges associated with whole team decision-making?
  • Increase the tangibility of whole team objectives?
  • Move disparate teams from competition to collaboration?
  • Establish trust?

The key success factors uncovered in our work so far include:

  • Giving local leaders and local teams control over themselves.
  • Building trust in the leader, the project, the organisation and other team partners.
  • Developing strong symbols around the values and benefits of partnership.
  • Designing practical processes for learning and sharing. 
  • Nurturing intellectual/emotional links for prioritising work and generating energy. 
  • Communicating through visual, physical and verbal anchors across the team.

For more information and/or to feed in your own experiences, please email me on: ray@wadenhoeleadership.com

The Wadenhoe Centre for Contemporary Leadership
© June 2020

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