In this episode:
Working with with people who aren’t located in your office can be a pain!
Tom helps you make this process go more smoothly by prompting better communication and building relationships.
- Work with remote teammates more effectively
- Learn what FORM is and how it can help you in your out-of-office projects.
- Use these concepts with your in-house team as well!
Download the Making a Personal Connection one pager for specific ways to apply F.O.R.M.!
Here’s a short video on how to apply F.O.R.M.
Sponsored by Geek to Great
Man: [00:00:00] Becoming a Geek Leader, Season 1, Episode 5.
Tom: [00:00:05] This episode of Becoming a Geek Leader is sponsored by the Geek to Great 101 course. We all want to grow our skills and improve the work we do, but who has time for that? In this online, blended learning program, you and your team will gain practical skills in topics like time management, dealing with difficult people, improving communication, and so much more. Train your whole team for less than $500. Each lesson is 30 minutes or less, so it fits right into your current team meeting schedule. Find more information and get immediate access to your first free lesson at brighthillgroup.com/helpinggeeks, that’s brighthillgroup.com/helpinggeeks, so that you can get access to the Geek to Great 101 course.
[00:01:03] Welcome to the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast. My name is Tom Cooper. As a geek, I’m on a mission to figure out better ways to lead others at work and at home. Through the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast, I’m sharing what I’m learning so I can help make you more effective at leading people, too. Ready?
[00:01:25] This week’s episode is all about how to get the most out of working with a team that’s remote. Now, I find this happens a lot with many of my clients, that they put together teams, whether they’re internal teams or external teams from multiple organizations working on a project, and they struggle because the teams are not co-located. So in today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about things that you can do that will make a difference with your team members who are not local to you. I am looking forward to hearing from you about what you have applied from today’s podcast.
Tom: [00:02:36] Today’s email comes from David. David says, “I’m responsible for making sure the work gets done. My team is spread out. I’ve got people a few states away, I’ve got some across the Pacific, and even some across the Atlantic. What can I do to get the most from my team?”
[00:02:55] Well David, thanks for asking the question. I find that this is a key challenge, particularly today. So many times we find ourselves working with vendors or working with partners, or servicing clients who are not local to us. And sometimes the team is an internal team, just like yours, where resources are spread out all over the globe. I worked in similar teams when I was working as a geek professionally, and we had employees, or contractors, or vendors, and all of them had different priorities and different agendas.
[00:03:34] Now, we struggled through many of common challenges that you’re probably facing now. Things like miscommunication, not enough communication, no connection between the people who are doing the work. We saw all kinds of cultural differences. Language issues, problems with translation and nuance between languages when people’s native language was not the same. Time zones, and yours in particular, must be challenging where you’ve got people on one side of the Atlantic who are several hours ahead of you and on the other side of the Pacific they are several hours behind you. And I know there’s this idea that, “Oh, we’ll work 24 hours a day. We’ll get the requirements on this side and we’ll hand it off and everything will keep going.” But the challenge is that it’s very difficult.
[00:04:24] And the final one that we ran into a lot was norms about quality, verbosity, depth of communication, and feedback. Those are the kind of challenges I ran into, and I suspect that those are similar to the kinds of challenges that you run into. The first thing I want to say about this is that working with remote team members is essentially the same as working with local team members, but here’s the key difference. The key difference is that when you work with somebody who’s in the same building you’re in, you’re likely to bump into them in the hallway, or on the way to lunch, or in the coffee…taking a coffee break by the coffee machine or the snack machine, or you’re going to run into them on the way to the same meeting, or right after a meeting you’ll probably chat with them a little bit. That’s the difference, that with a remote team member, you don’t have that informal communication opportunity.
[00:05:28] Typically, if you had something that was going on that was a little bit of an annoyance, or it was a challenge that you were facing, typically what you could do is just what I would call poke your head into their office. Stop by, just have an informal communication. But with these folks who are remote, it is much more difficult to do that because it just seems like a barrier that you have to overcome to make that connection. And I will tell you that it’s more than it seems like it’s a barrier, it’s an actual barrier to communication. So working with remote teams is the same as working with local teams, but you have to be intentional about making a connection with them.
[00:06:16] All those informal, subtle, brief communications, and that includes things like facial expression and body language, all of those things that comprise the totality of your communication when you’re face to face, they’re just not naturally there when you have a remote team. What that means is, you have a responsibility to go the extra mile. You have to take the initiative to make that connection. You’ve got to look for opportunities. More than even look for them, I’ll say, more than look for them, you have to make those opportunities.
[00:07:01] Now, I’ve heard that all business problems are people problems. And by extension, I think it’s true that all technical problems are actually people problems, too. Let me say that again, all technical problems are actually people problems, too. That’s not to say the technical problem is…there’s no such thing as a purely technical problem, but what I will say is that 90% of the problem is not the technical solution, 90% of the problem is defining what the problem is, making sure the customer is comfortable that you understand what the problem is, and dealing with the emotional stuff that goes along with that. So the technical solution is never completely sufficient.
[00:07:48] So, assuming that all technical problems are actually people problems, here’s the thing. If you want to get the most from your team members, you’ve got to know what matters to them. Now, as I’ve said, it’s easier if you work in the same office, because you’ll have those clues. The things that are…the indicators you’ll see, things like how they decorate their office. Do they put certificates on their wall or do they have pictures of their pet on their desk? Maybe their desktop image on their computer or their phone, and you have that opportunity to grab lunch with them, or get a cup of coffee, or bump into them in the hall, just as I said. And in those small, casual interactions, you have an opportunity to learn a ton about how they work.
[00:08:36] It’s funny, I recently shared this idea at a speaking engagement, and I want to share with you an example of how I learned something about a colleague and how that might help our future collaboration. The lady who introduced me, Beth, before we started up this presentation, she was showing me this adorable picture of her puppy that she has on the home screen of her phone, right? Now, I didn’t know she owned a dog before that. I’ve known Beth a little while professionally but I didn’t know about her dog. It’d be a good idea when I talk to Beth again to ask her how the puppy’s doing, right? Because that matters to her. It mattered enough that she took a picture, she put it on the phone, and she said, “Look at how cute my puppy is! My puppy’s so cute!” So that’s the kind of thing, if you can find out what it is for them, that’s a big deal.
[00:09:18] So apparently Beth loves her puppy. And I have to say, I love dogs and I can appreciate her love for her puppy. And because I have a dog too, we have a way that we can connect at some commonality that we can use to connect on common ground. But if you’re not in the same office and you’re not going to be able to have lunch with them, and frankly it’d be a little bit creepy for you to show up at their house to see how their home office is decorated, what can you do? How can you make a personal connection with somebody who’s not anywhere near you? You’re going to have to be a little bit creative because you’re going to have to make an opportunity to have a couple of minutes of personal conversation with them. So maybe it’s between status update meetings, you schedule a meeting with them about an issue that came up in the meeting, but you make it a point at the beginning of the conversation to ask them things like, “What did you do over the weekend?” It’s a simple opening and you can begin to connect with them on the things that matter to them.
[00:10:31] Now, you might think, “Look, I am really not good with small talk. I don’t enjoy it very much and I don’t think of things to talk about.” Well, let me help you with that. On the website, you’ll find with this podcast episode, one of the resources is a one-pager I call Making a Personal Connection, and I’ve got a whole long list of things you can ask people about, and they’re organized into categories. So, for example, you can ask them about their family, you can ask them about their occupation, you can ask them about recreation, and then you can ask them about message or mission. And on the Making a Personal Connection download sheet, there are probably two dozen topics or questions that you could ask people about. And because you’ve got that organized into family, occupation, recreation, and message or mission, you can think of it the acronym FORM. “F” is for family, “O” is for occupation, “R” is for recreation, “M” is for message or mission.
[00:11:38] And so I’m going to encourage you to get the Making a Personal Connection download sheet and take a look at that. Once you have that in your hands, let’s say you start to talk to somebody and they don’t want to talk about one topic. No problem, jump to one of the other topics and find one that they care enough about that they’re willing to talk about. This is critically important, if you can begin to understand what the motivators are, what the drivers are, what interests that other person, it’s going to make a huge difference in the way that you interact with them, and their willingness to help you get things done. But the tricky part with remote teams is you have to take the initiative. It won’t happen magically, and so you want to look for those opportunities to connect with somebody.
[00:12:26] Now, once you know something about those people, you have an opportunity. For example, I recently talked with a client and he told me that he was very passionate about rugby in South Africa. Now, I don’t know anything about that sport, but I do know about Google Alerts. So what I can do is set up a Google Alert on that topic and any time some information about that topic comes across the news wire, I can scan it, and if it looks positive and interesting, I can shoot it over to him and say, “Hey, I just happened to come across this, I thought you might be interested in it.” When we begin to show interest in the things that other people are interested in, even if we’re not specifically skilled in it…you know, I wouldn’t pretend that I know anything about rugby. I would say, “Gosh, I don’t really know anything about this but I saw this news story and I thought you might like to see it.” It’s as simple as that.
[00:13:27] I encourage you to be intentional about finding out what they care about and then creating ways to set up and sustain that connection. Find the thing that matters to them, and then begin to foster communication around that topic. If you want to be successful in working with your remote team, it’s about understanding who the people are that make up the team, and once you know who the people are, what things matter to those people. Fostering a personal connection, improving the kind of relationship that you have with them is the key, the single most important key, toward delivering better results.
[00:14:16] David, I hope that helps, and that’s today’s Coach’s Mailbox
Thought Leader Segment
Tom: [00:14:44] So when it comes to working with remote teams, in today’s Thought Leader segment, I want to share an idea from my mentor, John Maxwell. John wrote a book called “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork”. As you’re working with a team, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book. It’s very, very well done, and provides a framework for your thinking about how to improve your teamwork.
[00:15:12] Now, these laws that John identifies in his book are completely relevant to teams that work in the same building, and they’re also relevant to teams that are remote, perhaps even more relevant. The challenge is that most of the time we don’t have clarity about exactly what is needed. I was working with a client just the other day who said that he was frustrated about a remote team, that the remote team’s delivery was weak, that they weren’t doing very much, and he said, “I don’t even know what they’re really working on!” Now, I challenged him to go and look more closely at the work that they were doing and the problems they were solving and their understanding of what the expectations were. And in our next session he said, “You know, Tom, I was pretty upset with them, but now that I’ve looked at what they’re doing I realize that I just wasn’t seeing all the things they were doing. Now that I’ve looked more closely, I have more appreciation for the value that they’re delivering and I was wrong about what I thought.” Until he looked at it more closely, he didn’t know.
[00:16:19] So, John talks about 17 laws, and one of them is the law of the scoreboard, the law of the scoreboard, the team needs to know where it stands. Now, as I said, this is important for teams that are co-located, I would suggest it’s even more important for remote teams. When people aren’t clear on what you want, you’re not going to get what you want, period. If they don’t understand what you want, you’re not going to get what you want, and it’s especially true when they’re in another location, another time zone, they’re from another culture. When it comes to the scoreboard, John says the scoreboard is essential to understanding.
[00:17:01] Now, I don’t know a lot about a lot of sports, but one I do enjoy is football. Now, if I’m watching a football game and one of my sons comes in the room, the first question he’s going to ask me is, “What’s the score, Dad?” The scoreboard tells us who is winning the game, how much time is left in the game, who has the ball right now, and even down to what’s the next smallest milestone. What down is it, what’s the difference to the next first down, they’ve crammed a ton of information into the scoreboard and it helps you understand where you are. So thinking about your team, when it comes to your team, what scoreboard are you using? You need to be able to have that scoreboard in front of you, so that you can evaluate how you’re doing.
[00:17:58] If it’s early in the game and your team’s not doing very well, there’s time to make adjustments, there’s time to make decisions. But the approach that you take in the last two minutes of the game may not be the same approach that you take in the first half of the game. And so understanding where you are and all of the factors that lead to success, we know at the end of the game the only thing that matters is what was on the scoreboard, but during the game, during the game there’s so many factors that influence what you do and how things are going to work.
[00:18:30] If you want to make course corrections, seeing the score, knowing where you are, watching your progress, the rate of change, the rate of improvement, all those things factor in to your success. You can’t win without knowing what the score needs to be, and how do you begin to define that scoreboard? Well, it might be, we’re going to deliver System X, by Y date, but even within that you probably need to go a lot deeper. Just like you have the score, and then you have the down and distance in football, you have to know what’s the next thing the customer’s looking at. What’s the next milestone that matters, what’s the next deliverable that matters, and can we all agree on what that looks like? Making sure that we’re all on the same page about what success looks like is really what the scoreboard is all about. Your team members need a scoreboard to know whether they’re getting it done or not.
[00:19:33] If you ask your team members to fill out a one-question survey and the question is, “How am I measuring your success?” I bet you’d be astonished by the variety of answers that you get back from people, even if you think you’ve been crystal clear. One advantage to a centrally-published scoreboard is that everybody can see where they are and they can agree.
[00:20:00] I think I may have shared this before, but I was working on a project recently where we were doing some volunteer work and we were assembling things as part of the volunteer work. And there were multiple stations that were doing the same job, and what we found was the team that was upstream from us making the stuff that we had to do the next part on, wasn’t getting very much done. And I sat back and tried to not get involved in changing things around, but I watched other teams who were doing the same job being much more productive. And eventually I got frustrated and I went up and I asked them, “Hey, how’s it going?” And they said, “It’s going great! We’re making a lot of progress. We’re moving really fast. We’re working as a well-oiled machine. This is fantastic.” And I said to them, “Wait a minute, wait. Do you realize that other teams are producing more than you’re producing?” They said, “No way! There is no way that other teams could do more than we’re doing.” They didn’t have a scoreboard, and without a scoreboard, their internal feedback mechanism told them everything was going well when it really wasn’t. And I’d be willing to bet that you probably have some of that going on within your organization as well, so how is your team being measured?
[00:21:19] Now, one thing that you may get frustrated by when I share this is, you might say, “Look Tom, I’m not the boss. I’m not able to make them do anything. They don’t have to listen to me at all.” Well, first of all, let me assure you that even if you were the boss, you couldn’t make them do anything anyway, so what you need to do is get clarity about the scoreboard. How is your customer keeping score? What measurements are relevant for your team members to know? Are they producing enough widgets fast enough? Are they solving the right business problems that your customer cares about? What are the things that matter to the customer? Not the things that matter to you internally. The people that are paying your paycheck, what do they care about? The people that are buying those services, what matters to them? And those are the items that need to go on the scoreboard, particularly when you’re working with a remote team.
[00:22:30] I shared with you a minute ago about my client who was frustrated with his remote team’s production. Until he got on the same page with them about what the expectations were, he just didn’t know exactly what they were working on and he didn’t know how productive they were, whether they were actually delivering value, the kind of value that he needed. Let me just encourage you to think about what can you do to document what matters. What matters to the customer, what matters to your management, and find a way to put that into one place, a one-page report, some indicator of how things are going. Once you have the scoreboard identified and you get people to agree what the score is and what the score should be at the end, now you can get everybody making the right kinds of decisions.
[00:23:30] Let me give you just a few more things to think about from this law of the scoreboard. First, what is the scoreboard for your team? How are you measuring progress? Is it modules of code delivered? Is it business problems solved? Is it revenue? Is it the level of excellence or innovation? How do you keep score? That’s a critical question to answer, and it’s a good one to talk to the whole team about. What are we measuring today? Heck, what should we be measuring? Once you’ve decided from a team perspective what those measurements looks like, now you can start to measure yourself individually and you can challenge your teammates to measure themselves individually. What should you be keeping track of to make sure you’re doing your best? How can you be on your A game to deliver for your team?
[00:24:30] Now remember, leadership is influence, it’s not title, it’s not role, it’s not position. It’s your ability to influence other people. You can be a team leader even if you’re the person on the bottom rung of the ladder that you’re on. And let me just read to you some ideas that John shares about becoming a better team leader. John says, “If you lead the team, you have primary responsibility for checking the scoreboard and communicating the team’s situation to its members. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it all by yourself, but you do need to make sure that team members continually evaluate, adjust, and make decisions as quickly as possible. That is the key to winning. Do you have a system to make sure that happens, or do you generally rely on your intuition? Using intuition is fine, as long as you have some fail-safe backups to make sure you don’t let the team down. Evaluate how consistently and effectively you consult your scoreboard. If you’re not doing it as well as you should, then create a system that helps you to do it or empowers others on your team to share that responsibility.” I think that’s a great suggestion from John Maxwell about how to improve teamwork by leveraging the law of the scoreboard, and that’s today’s Thought Leader Segment.
Tom: [00:26:27] In today’s episode, we’ve been talking about how can you get better results when you’re working with a remote team. In the Coach’s Mailbox segment, we talked about how you have to be intentional about making a personal connection with people to make a difference at work. In the Thought Leader segment, we talked about the law of the scoreboard and how having an agreed standard for performance is critically important to getting the team to deliver the things that are most important.
[00:26:59] For today’s Episode Hack, I want to ask you, who is the most difficult person on your team? Who frustrates you? Who is it that just makes you crazy? What personal connection have you made with them? What is it you know about them, their family, their occupation, their recreation, their message or mission? What do you know about what makes them tick and what they want? For today’s Hack, I want you to decide what you can do to improve that connection. Think about what you can do to make the time to reach out to that one person and learn more about what matters to them so that you can be more personally connected with them, more relating to the things of their world. Remember, I mentioned that on the brighthillgroup.com website, in this episode there is a link to the Making a Personal Connection one-pager, and that would be a good place to start when you want to look at how can you improve the connection you make with somebody else. And that is today’s Episode Hack.
[00:28:15] Thanks for listening to this episode of Becoming a Geek Leader. You can play a part in helping the podcast to grow. If you enjoyed it, please do me a favor. The way to get the podcast to grow is for you to go to iTunes and give it a rating. If enough of you give me a good rating on iTunes, this podcast will show up in their “New and Noteworthy” section. Being in “New and Noteworthy” is a great way to attract more listeners, and having more listeners helps me have the support to keep the podcast going.
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