Whether you lead a nonprofit, run a business from home, or work outside your home, many of us are building relationships and, in turn, building teams. These teams could simply be down the hall or in the building next door, but for many these teams can span the globe or at the very least the continental United States.
As the Founder and Director of a nonprofit ministry for military women and wives called Planting Roots, I have had to learn and grow in the area of leadership over our five-year history. With a team of almost forty women in all parts of the world from South Korea to Germany, remote leadership is definitely a work in progress for me. I have had to learn to adjust to time zones and schedules, but also working to get to know people and build relationships. Constantly on a learning curve, I have read many articles about remote leadership over the years. The advice they give ranges from being trustworthy to having good written and oral communication. Other traits they suggest are proactive, organized, and indefatigable.
While fabulous advice and traits I aspire to, I don’t know that they give me the nuts and bolts I long for in growing and sustaining a remote team. Just being organized or trustworthy don’t really fill that gap between “great idea” and “successful organization.” As more and more of us in the military world do great things and grow amazing teams, it’s imperative that we learn what fills the gap.
I am certainly not an expert on filling the gap, but I have learned a few things along the way that have continued to help me successfully continue to move our team toward “successful organization.” This is what I have learned:
- Relationships are key: Nobody really cares what you say until they know you actually care about them. With a remote team this can be a challenge, but so worth the effort. I do this in multiple ways like sending postcards or personal notes twice a year (handwritten), calling the senior leadership regularly, checking in with staff via text or messenger, and notating things I hear or see that are going on in their world. It makes a difference when you know about surgeries, kids starting school, upcoming PCS, and millions of other details. You don’t have to know every detail, but we all love it when someone remembers us.
- Give everyone a voice: While we have a senior leadership team for our organization, it certainly doesn’t mean that those few individuals have all of the right answers. The team we have is an amazing conglomerate of knowledge, experience, and wisdom, much like yours, no doubt. We have made it a point to hear their voices. We do this through annual town hall meetings we hold virtually, with a maximum of ten folks per meeting so we can all be heard. We also have staff meetings in person when we hold events. While not all of us are there, we get some great interaction time and also bring in the rest of our team through fblive or skype. A staff retreat every other year has become a vital part of what we do. These couple of days together accomplish more than we might in six months otherwise and the relationships that grow from it are indispensable.
- Vocabulary matters: As the Director of an organization, I carry the responsibility, yes, but I by no means do all the work. Changing words like “I” and “my team” to “we” and “the team” have made a huge difference. By changing vocabulary everyone feels a part and realizes that all roles are important to accomplishing the mission.
- Trust and accountability go hand in hand: The organization has hired or brought on board different folks because they have the skill and expertise to do a certain job. Learning to trust them to do it is key in building the team, but not at the expense of accountability. As a leader in the organization, creating means of accountability can feel sometimes like you’re checking up on folks, but it’s actually an opportunity for all of you. You gain knowledge of the big things going on in the organization or team while allowing for dialogue between folks which many times produces new ideas and creativity. Plans are drafted inside a small part of the team, but having fresh eyes look at it before it is implemented can bring some input that makes it that much better. Trust and accountability, when properly balanced, can produce amazing results.
- Celebrate together: As the leader, you can have much more information than many on your team. You see the challenges but you also see the steps forward, the daily “wins,” the big picture of vision coming to life. Those in the trenches sometimes miss those things. Share. Share the successes along the way with everyone! Whether you send an email to your entire team, share a post on you teams group Facebook page, or verbally share at a staff get-together, make it a point to celebrate with everyone. It really does give folks energy and renewed excitement as they realize their efforts have been worth it.
Things like trustworthy, proactive, and organized are important traits for leaders, but I don’t believe they make great organizations or teams. People are the vital component to success. To fill the gap between this project, organization, or mission being a “great idea” and truly “successful” means leaders must work with people. Whether running an MLM from home, leading a nonprofit, starting businesses, or becoming part of larger ones, learning to work with people is vital to filling the gap. Military folks are working with remote teams more and more. Learning to interact personally, consistently, and authentically is vital to growing great teams. Remember, we work with people.
Do you run a remote team? What have you learned to be successful in building remote teams? I would LOVE to know!