Volume 16 • Issue 4
Welcome to AIM® Virtual Team Building eNews!
With the holiday season sneaking up, end of the year employee performance evaluations are not far behind. Year-end provides the opportunity to take stock of how well goals were met for the current business cycle, and to set new objectives going forward. According to research conducted by RW3, makers of Culture Wizard, 85% of employees are now part of at least one virtual team, and 73% believe that the advantages of virtual teams outweigh their challenges (RW3, 2016). The AIM Strategies® team agrees with these findings based on our 18+ years of experience working with local, global and virtual teams.
Virtual teams are popular for very good reasons – – they allow for greater flexibility and quicker decision making – – which in turn means increased profits. In order for this work format to succeed, managers must know how to monitor and evaluate performance remotely. In this AIM® eNews edition we share insights about how to solve some of the challenges virtual teams face when managing performance from a distance.
- Performance Management Scenario
- Problem #1: Lack of Face-To-Face Interaction
- Problem #2: Ineffective Performance Reviews
- Virtual Performance Management Solutions
- 8 Tips for Virtual Performance Evaluation Feedback
- Going Forward
The AIM® team thought about how to convey these challenges to our readership, and made the decision to describe an example that we came across more than once. Please look at the scenario described below, which may be familiar to some of you! How would you, or did you, handle a similar situation?
Senior Manager at US-Based IT Company, let’s call him Steve, supervises a virtual team of 6 team members who mostly work in different cities around the world (Dallas, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland) doing system implementation and software upgrades. Only one team member (John) works at the same office as Steve. Steve and John see each other weekly and often talk through business issues and interact during coffee and lunch breaks. Steve has never met his other team members in person, though they regularly communicate via email and video conference meetings.
Now that it’s time for performance reviews and the evaluations are due, Steve realizes that he is less equipped to properly evaluate several virtual team members due to their somewhat limited interactions. He can comment on goal achievement but not specific behavior-based steps since he has not had the chance to regularly observe or interact with them. Even though team members informed Steve about their achievements and documented deliverables in their project management tool, Steve is still not aware of the processes, behaviors or approaches they utilized to get the job done.
In contrast, Steve can comment about John’s achievements and believes that John has done more work than his colleagues since Steve interacts with John on a regular basis and sees him often.
Earlier this year, Steve gave feedback to each team member during one-on-one meetings and made several attempts to ensure team members heard his messages about product quality and profit challenges as well as critical business deadlines. There were several misunderstandings about client proposals which were resolved, but now the team is somewhat behind on meeting goals and Steve is now faced with the challenge of improving his virtual team’s performance.
He wonders, “What’s approach should I take?”
If you were coaching Steve what’s the best approach for him to (1) ensure performance evaluations are fair and (2) to set expectations for the next period? Since Steve’s team did not excel at performance, Steve is not in a position to give bonuses this year, so he has to get his message across while keeping motivation high.
Let’s first define the problems in this scenario:
The scenario shows why it’s difficult for Steve to accurately evaluate his virtual team members’ performance. Despite regular virtual communication, interpersonal interaction is lacking; however, Steve has constantly observed and interacted with John and therefore, he believes that John works harder.
This psychological phenomenon occurs because of something organizational psychologists call ‘Availability Heuristic’, or a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind. Simply observing John’s behavior regularly causes Steve to conclude that John is a greater contributor than his virtual counterparts. Staying in touch via video conference meetings and emails may not be enough for Steve to understand situational challenges and contributions. As noted above, Steve has a good idea about each team member’s outcomes, but not their processes, and this can cause inaccurate evaluations and untargeted feedback – both of which lead to stagnant performance.
According to the ‘Trends in Virtual Teams Report in 2016’, 59% of virtual team employees feel performance reviews are not worth the time invested. This widely held belief could be the reason that Steve’s team rejected his performance feedback, leading to little or no improvement from one year to the next. Negative performance evaluations can also be seen as a threat to employees’ job-related self-esteem. Social psychologists, such as Alvin Zander (Performance Appraisals, Effects on Employees and Their Performance, University of Michigan) have found that sometimes people react to an evaluation in a self-defeating way, like questioning feedback or simply ignoring it, to lessen the threat to self-esteem. Keep in mind that most employees want to know how they are performing and what their potential career growth opportunities are within the organization, and how they can improve. The key factor in evaluations is to use a review discussion, which virtual team managers can use (1) without a great deal of training, and (2) to enhance team members’ self-esteem.
How can we help Steve handle performance from a distance?
Below are several virtual performance management tips based on Yael Zofi’s acclaimed book, A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams. We have grouped these tips into 4 key areas of virtual team management, with specific bullet-pointed steps that Steve can take to enhance each one.
- Implement stronger tracking systems to ensure clarity around both what and how the team achieves outcomes
- Regularly discuss how members contribute to results
- Get real-time updates as projects move along
- Strive to understand how deliverables can be affected by different cultural, ethical, and interpersonal values; put the effort into knowing your team
|Manage Context Communications
Collaborations CHAPTER 3
When Steve gives virtual team members performance feedback from a distance he can follow these 8 practical steps, and use the best virtual communication medium he can (video is best, telephone a close second):
1. Focus on the behavior, not the person.
2. Start the performance review discussion by asking the team member for his or her view first (e.g., how they view the job and work environment, are there issues with technology, what expectations do they have of you or their virtual teammates?).
3. State your perspective about performance and present both- what the person does well (or as Yael Zofi refers – Reinforcing Feedback) as well as areas for improvement (Re-directive Feedback). This approach provides team members with a balanced view and realization that negative feedback can be used as a development tool, not a personal criticism.
4. Next, give examples of desirable behaviors, followed by specific opportunities for performance improvement.
5. Provide time for questions and talk about both things that you agree and disagree about performance.
6. Then summarize performance, and do not measure one team member’s performance against another since comparisons foster resentment.
7. Construct a performance improvement plan and plan a follow up discussion about future opportunities (e.g. advancement, exposure, new assignments, role expansion).
8. Finally, close the performance review discussion on a constructive and encouraging note – and remember that performance review discussions are a two-way process – team members’ inputs are essential for ‘ownership’ on their part of the process!
Following these simple steps will help team managers, like Steve, and his virtual team members to improve and excel in the future.
Steve now realizes that ‘out of sight does not mean out of mind’, and there are many effective practices he can use to manage performance from a distance. Some require a little retooling to ensure that dispersed team members stay on track and work more efficiently together, even when physically apart.
Steve can read A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams or get the latest Virtual Teams Activity Guide companion exercise book. He can also Contact Yael Zofi at AIM Strategies® and set a short virtual coaching call to make his virtual team more effective.
Questions or comments? Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or Call: +1.718.832.6699 / 6767. We will provide consulting, training and coaching services to help you make your own virtual teams more effective. Check our Previous Client List & Feedback to get more information about AIM Strategies® and Yael Zofi’s consulting, training and virtual coaching services.