Creating Successful, Collaborative Remote Teams the Avengers Way
Forget a list of tools. I want to talk about The Avengers.
As the number of people working as part of remote and virtual teams has increased, so have debates on the value, effectiveness and best practices related to this no-longer-new paradigm. As exciting as it would be to make another list of the tools that will quickly and easily put you and your team on the road to epic productivity, I’m …well, I’m just not going to do that. Right now, anyway.
Instead, I want to discuss The Avengers. Stay with me here. Who are the Avengers? They’re a group of pre-existing superheroes operating as a powerful collective, largely from independently chosen remote locations. Even during intense missions, rarely do they all gather in a single place. Instead, they use
- unique individual skills,
- high tech communication,
- a commitment to shared values
- a common goal, and
- some totally cool weaponry
to defeat evil and save the world.
In short, the Avengers might just make up the greatest collaborative remote work force in the (Marvel) universe. Let’s look at this a little closer to take away some key lessons on how to create a truly collaborative work environment for remote or virtual work teams.
Assembling Your Superheroes
“There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.”
One huge advantage to building a remote team is the size of your talent pool. You’re not limited to those who live in proximity to your company or who would be interested in moving to your physical location. The first key to building a successful and collaborative remote work team is to find the people who are strongest in the unique individual skills your company needs to be successful. Do you need a genius engineer with a magnetic chest plate and a technologically advanced rocket suit? A spy trained as a martial artist and sniper? Maybe you just need a really good content writer. It’s okay – I guess we can’t all be Nick Fury. The point is this: if you need a content writer, get the best darn content writer you can.
Skills aren’t the only thing you should be seeking and evaluating during the recruitment process. It’s important you find people who fit the culture and vision of your team. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be the same, not at all. They must share certain traits that will hold the team together, though – traits that are based on your company and your desired culture.
One important key – be sure to look at candidates using methods that hold real meaning for the team. Some companies with remote or virtual teams actually conduct portions of their interviews via chat, as this tends to be their primary method of communication. You and your team will have an opportunity to see how a candidate comes across in a “typical” conversation and to filter out those who may damage a team dynamic in day-to-day communication.
Your Mission: Find Cool Communication Tools
Ah, couldn’t we all use JARVIS (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System)? Tony Stark seems to have one up on us all with his home computing system. JARVIS handles everything from opening blinds and heating and cooling to managing the Iron Man suits and deploying them on missions. Remote and visual work teams use a number of systems or programs to manage projects and enable communication. Whether your team uses Slack, Basecamp, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Hackpad, GoToMeeting or other highly useful tools for remote teams, it is important that the tools be chosen thoughtfully.
There are, of course, seemingly endless choices and reviews on the quality and usefulness of tools for distributed teams. Your mission is to find tools:
- that function well for task completion
- reflect and enhance your team culture
- encourage collaboration between team members
In traditional, physical offices, there are places where team members can connect and build camaraderie in informal ways. It is difficult, but important, to ensure this space exists for a distributed team as well.
The Avengers team uses their communication systems to share mission-critical information, but they also use virtual communication methods to connect in other ways. They crack jokes, poke fun at one another and sometimes even acknowledge one another’s humanity through thinly veiled sarcasm. This injection of humanity into operations cannot be underestimated when creating a successful collaborative remote team.
If your virtual workspace also serves as the venue for informal communication, it is critical for the organization’s leaders to provide a regular example and guide for what is appropriate and what is envisioned for the team. Whether you want to encourage knowledge-sharing, idea creation or simply inside jokes, leaders must engage their team in these activities by providing a good platform and an equally good example.
Maybe you can be a Nick Fury after all …
The Mission IS the Reward
At work, some people feel rewarded by social interaction and constant feedback. These are not your superheroes – pass them by. The Avengers aren’t exactly hoping for a press conference and the key to the city at the end of a mission. A high quality and collaborative distributed team will be made up of individuals for whom the mission IS the reward. They are trustworthy and don’t need you to keep them motivated. Instead, they are motivated by a desire to see the team’s objectives met and to create a great finished product.
This doesn’t mean you can fill your team with such individuals and assume the show will run itself. If your team is filled results-driven individuals, make sure all members of the team have access to project performance measures. They will all appreciate the occasional pat on the back, but what they really need is to see they are contributing and making a difference for the project and/or the client.
It can require additional effort to ensure everyone is on the same page, especially if there is change occurring on the team or in a particular project. During these times, it is important to allow team members the opportunity to speak and really listen to one another. Massive change probably calls for a team retreat or in-person gathering. Electronic and virtual forms of communication can cause more problems than they resolve when emotions – including confusion, uncertainty or frustration – run high. Even when the core of a decision must be made by a small subset of the team, allowing the rest a say in some way will eventually result in a better decision. Unlike, say, this one:
Bruce Banner: You want me to take the scepter behind everyone’s back and use it to bring Ultron to life?
Tony Stark: Yeah, we don’t have time for a city hall debate.
In short, don’t be a Tony Stark. Sure, being a rich, genius, playboy-philanthropist sounds great, but it comes with certain … flaws.
GET TO KNOW EVEREFFECT
Kimberli Clarke is a Creative Content Strategist -and member of EverEffect’s team of remote Avengers- who prides herself on ensuring clients see their priorities and voices represented in strategic web content that not only improves web presence, it enhances the relationship between the client and those they seek to serve. If you’re curious about what we’re thinking, give our blog posts a read. Or give us a call at 888-506-2183 for a face-to-face.