The 9 Building Blocks for a Successful Remote Team

You’ve been teaming via video more and more recently. So, how’s it going? Are your people teams and project teams coming together? Are you able to maintain productivity? Is your remote team thriving? Or is technological fatigue setting in?

Maybe it’s time for a reboot! Consider new or different ways to “mind the (virtual) gap” when connecting team members —new or old.

All successful teams need:

  • Deep trust (psychological safety)
  • High expectations for performance
  • Shared ownership of the team’s purpose and goals

Building an effective team takes time and thoughtful planning. Consider these nine building blocks for remote team building:

1. Your team members

Who are the people you are inviting to the meeting? What do you know about them? Do they know each other already? Have they worked together before, and if so, how could they work together better?

  • Consider whether investing in a DISC, Insights or Myers-Briggs assessment would help in identifying team member styles and synergies.
  • Think about ways for the team to learn more about each other. This may include: doing introductory calls before the first team meeting, asking team members to prepare a career timeline or short bio, having team members use LinkedIn to share their professional profile and experience

2. Shared language

Are there any language hurdles to overcome, especially if you are working on a global remote team? Consider establishing (or re-establishing) language ground rules with the team, for example:

  • Using visuals
  • Making it safe (and expected) to ask for clarification
  • Summarizing frequently
  • Defining common terms

3. Timing

What days and times will work best for your team? How do time zones affect your meetings?

  • Studies show that when it comes to using logic and deduction skills, many people are at their sharpest in the morning. In the afternoon, when logic and deduction wane and our brains are “looser,” we’re often better at spotting new connections — a key to creative thinking.
  • Global teams may never share the same mornings or afternoons, so consider alternating meeting times to take advantage of the different “brain powers” of team members.
  • Regardless of time zones, keep your remote meetings as short as is practical, and build in breaks if they run longer than an hour.

4. Team norms

What rules and behaviors are important for the team? How can you make sure they are shared and followed?

  • The best way to set rules and behaviors is with the input of your team. They may be values (trust, benefit of the doubt, listening) or specific behaviors (no multitasking, have an agenda, end on time, turn video on [or off]).
  • The Center for Creative Leadership offers questions and steps to help you assess your own team norms, then build and sustain them with your team. 

5. Clear outcomes

What does your team need to accomplish and how are they currently teaming? How can you align team building goals with key deliverables or milestones in a project?

  • Remember, building a team takes time, and typically goes through the stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing. While the stages may be predictable, their timing can’t be programmed.
  • As you build each meeting agenda, consider what needs to be accomplished along with where your team is in their formation. This will help guide your outcomes, how to engage team members (during and between meetings), and how to constructively assign tasks.

6. Clear roles

How do you identify roles to engage your team, leverage strengths, integrate individual goals with team goals, and share the work?

  • There are a variety of models to determine team roles, from simple (asking members to identify strengths and what they can add to the project) to more complex (the nine Belbin team roles). Models are helpful to speed up the forming stage, so you can get through the storming and norming more quickly.
  • Even with a model, flexibility is important. Good teams are always learning and growing, which means roles may shift. This is especially true of leadership roles. Sharing leadership, especially as the project moves through different phases and requires different strengths, is an important way to keep team members engaged and developing. The only “fixed” requirement is that, even as roles evolve, the basic team requirements continue to be covered (e.g. creating agendas, taking notes, assigning tasks and dates, etc.).

7. Tasks and processes

So, you have your meeting. Everyone fulfills their initial roles. Work is assigned. You’re ready to go, right? Well…maybe. Do your team members really know what to do? And do they know how to get it done? The steps to follow? How much time to take? How to meet quality standards? These may seem like minor details…until the completed task comes back in a form you couldn’t have imagined when the task was assigned.

  • Breaking down tasks and defining processes is an important way to make a team work more effectively. Even simple tasks and processes are worth a review—especially with a new team or a team with different levels of experience or different cultures.
  • A simple but brilliant approach to clarifying processes can be found at drawtoast.com. This short video illustrates why this step is so valuable. Whether you follow all the steps, or just use the ideas to start a conversation with your team, you will help your team be much more effective (and less frustrated) as they work on their tasks.

8. Fun!

It’s okay to have fun with your remote team! It’s the secret sauce that amplifies psychological safety, creativity, and stronger relationships. Fun doesn’t necessarily mean “funny,” (although laughter is a wonderful break in a meeting), or playing games. It also can’t be forced. The best fun has an element of spontaneity. You can encourage fun in a meeting, but you can’t mandate it. 

9. Connections between meetings

Once your meeting is done, you shouldn’t be. Keep your team on track between meetings. There are three important things to do before your next team meeting: 

  • If you assigned someone to take notes in the meeting, make sure they get completed and shared as soon as possible after the meeting. 
  • Find out from your team how the meeting went. What worked well? What could be done differently? Remember the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages of a team as you collect feedback. Not everything needs to run perfectly to make progress and be productive. 
  • Make time to touch base with individual team members on a regular basis to get input, provide feedback and offer coaching. You might also want to encourage team members to do their own occasional outreach to each other to build relationships. 

Building and sustaining a remote team takes some different steps than doing it “live.” But by minding the virtual gaps, you can help assure your team is just as engaged, just as energized and just as productive as any other team meeting remotely or face-to-face.