For many leaders the past 18 months have presented a challenge they have never before faced: managing a remote team. Whether your team is 100% remote or now partially remote, building a culture of accountability has never been more important or more unprecedented. It is not that many leaders don’t trust their direct reports, but rather they lack a framework that drives accountability virtually.
Here are a few tips I have gathered from the wealth of knowledge I have access to through communicating with leaders every day in my consulting business. I hope curating some of these ideas may be helpful for others given the current environment. All these best practices come back to a central theme in building a culture of accountability: Trust.
As many of my clients have shared, trust breeds accountability during uncertain times, so it is a great place to start. Do those you lead know that you trust and appreciate them? Have you told them lately?
Depending on the size of your team, calling, emailing or communicating face to face virtually with a few people you lead every day with the intent of just letting them know you value their work, and their efforts are not going unnoticed, goes a long way. Spend a few minutes before you reach out thinking about something specific and authentic you can share that you appreciate about another. Make sure to reach out to those you typically don’t connect with often, either because they manage themselves, or maybe even because your relationship is not as strong with some team members, so you tend to connect more naturally with others.
In the office environment, it was much easier to call everyone together and verify that projects were staying on track with reports and status documents. It is just as important now, if not more important, when the technology is in place to help leaders keep tabs on critical projects and their status.
Many leaders I have worked with lately say they love the virtual nature of cloud documents for status updates because team members can update them at any time and leaders can do random spot checks on the document and get a clear picture of where a given project stands. Setting an expectation that the shared document will be updated prior to a weekly standing meeting is also effective in building accountability.
If no document exists for a certain project, make one. Even if all you do is create a cloud document that lists measurable outputs, and ask team members to update against those key performance indicators weekly, you are on your way!
As important as measuring project status is, rewarding employee contributions in whatever way supports your company culture is equally valuable in sustaining a culture of accountability.
How often do you share your key business drivers and how the work your direct reports are doing fuels those drivers? Sharing the “why” behind key initiatives is often overlooked as is a critical element in building accountability with direct reports. Often leaders have a much broader line of site than their direct reports. In a virtual team environment, taking time to share they “Why” is highly effective. Focusing less on productivity and more on alignment is a really important distinction always, but especially right now. Are the efforts of your team moving the right dials for the organization? Are your people working on the right things for the greater business? If leaders focus more on communicating the “why” and clarifying the goals that support the “why,” productivity will take care of itself.
Once you have shared the “why,” where appropriate, empower your team by allowing them to make their own individual commitments. The most powerful team meetings I have facilitated virtually have an element of induvial commitment making. Many leaders are blown away by what team members will take on when given the opportunity to set their own scope on a project. Of course, it is important to follow up as a team and make the sure each member has the support, bandwidth, measurable outcomes, and means to check-in with the larger team, in place once commitments are made (via Slack channels, All In weekly check ins, group texting, etc.)
Finally model setting boundaries to avoid burnout and support your direct reports in doing the same. By many accounts, productivity has increased in the past 18 months. For a large number of employees, there is no longer a commute time and the office never “closes” when work is from home. Burnout is real for leaders and those they lead. Set boundaries that protect personal time and share those with your team giving them permission to do the same.
Many of the other tips, like setting a clear strategy, measuring collective productivity, and holding daily check-in’s, are timeless leadership practices that apply virtual or otherwise. I think that is the most important thing to remember right now. The guiding principles of leadership have not changed in this virtual setting, but how leaders implement those principles has changed dramatically. The bottom line is holding your team accountable isn’t an exercise in control but rather an exercise in empowerment and that is a benchmark of good leadership.
What best practices would you add that have been effective in building a strong culture of accountability in your virtual world of work?