Six Rookie Mistakes When Leading Remote Teams

When there’s a sea storm, captains are called upon to reassure their crew, so that together they keep the ship safe enough to move in the right direction. 

The Coronavirus storm has forced teams — without warning and without delay — to work from home in improvised office spaces, fighting to focus on work while juggling several other responsibilities and concerns at the same time.

If remote working poses a challenge in and of itself, all the more so in crisis conditions, where uncertainty and confusion make the load all the heavier.  

Since 2011, I’ve been helping organizations — in good and bad times — build teams, many of which with some or all their members working remotely, often in different time zones. 

Here are six mistakes you want to avoid (and six recommendations) when leading teams remotely, especially in crisis conditions.

Mistake #1: Believe it is (almost) business as usual

A new paradigm is emerging, as tends to happen in crisis. And with it, new challenges are thrown at your team. It would be a mistake not to stop and fully appreciate the nature of the challenges you and your team are now facing.

It’s a mistake to think this is only about keeping things going a bit longer before it’s over. It’s a new problem. Face it with your team.

RECOMMENDATION: Do a diagnosis

Imagine you are Dr. House. If the challenge you now face is an illness, what would you call it?

Mistake #2: To execute without a roadmap

In a crisis it is easy for teams to get disoriented, especially if they are forced in a rush to work remotely. You might have a sense of what comes next, but the team most likely has no f**king idea.

It is a mistake to ask teams to continue moving forward without a new road map that shows this is where we are, this is where we are going, and most importantly, this is why we’re going. I wonder what Nietzsche was thinking when he said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 😉

RECOMMENDATION: Give them context and relevance 

Explain to the team how their work fits in the larger picture, and why their contribution really matters.

Mistake #3: Fail to clarify new expectations

New problems require new behaviours. It it especially important that we define deliverables and ownership so that everyone knows who does what and who is responsible for making sure it gets done. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them what they CAN’T screw up

New problems require exploration, which can lead to failure. It is crucial you specify what bits you expect the team to do absolutely right, the bits where failure is not an option. 

Mistake #4: Make it a one-way road

If feedback is important, now it is more than ever. It’s a rookie’s mistake to fail to create NEW channels for feedback. Unless you ask, you will not know the struggles and suggestions your team has. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them it’s NOT ok to stay stuck and silent

Send out questions before meetings, and ask everyone to come prepared to share.

Mistake #5:  Neglect positive feedback

Humans need feedback to grow, which makes giving feedback the gift of growth: constructive feedback gives us the path for growth, and positive feedback gives us the energy to grow.

In times of crisis, teams need tons of positive feedback — the energy — to get through challenges. Forgetting to give positive feedback is a silly mistake.  

RECOMMENDATION: Double down on positive feedback 

Give twice as much positive feedback and show twice as much appreciation. Start with positive feedback. End with positive feedback. Transition with positive feedback. And ask the whole team to give… POSITIVE FEEDBACK.  

Mistake #6: Undervalue repetition

The Romans believed that “repetitio est mater studiorum”, that repetition is the mother of learning. When working remotely, technical issues can make getting information across difficult.

Moreover, when remote work is being improvised moment by moment and under great uncertainty, tension is generated, which makes getting information across even more difficult. 

Hence the need to repeat, repeat, repeat.  

RECOMMENDATION: Sound like a broken record 

Say it at the beginning. Repeat in the middle. Ask them to say it. And say again at the end.

Feedback Part III: How to Suggest Improvements

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

In the final part of the series, I share three techniques to suggest improvements when we give constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to suggest improvements?

Feedback Part II: How to Encourage the Listener

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

In part II, I share three ways to encourage the listener when we give constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to encourage your listener?

Feedback Part I: How to Make Stronger Statements

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

Here in part I, I share three ways to make our statements stick when giving constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to make your statements clearer?

The Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy

Today I read a post on LinkedIn written by John Ford about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I decided to comment on it, but the amount of text seems to be limited. So I wrote this post instead.

 

Words matter. Agreeing on what words mean matters more.

 

The Ancient Greek words for sympathy and empathy (which then found their way into Latin) can provide insight into to their meaning today.

They have a common root, the “pathy” part. It derives from the Greek word “pathos” (πάθος), which means “pain, suffering, passion”.
Prefixed to the root are conjunctions: “sym” meaning “with” (from “sun”, σύν) and “em” meaning “in” (from “en”, ἐν). This adds up to:

 

Sympathy is “pain with”: to feel the pain with someone.

Empathy is “pain in”: to feel the pain in someone.

 

Sympathy, in its positive understanding, means we identify with the person’s pain because we’ve experienced the same or a similar situation.

Empathy takes it up a notch: we feel the person’s pain, even though we do not personally relate to their situation. In other words:

 

Sympathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I know what it’s like, mine feel the same.”

 

Empathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I don’t know what it’s like, mine feel nothing like that. But I relate to how they make you feel.

 

Empathy is priceless when we’re incapable of identifying with the person, for instance, when people do things we could never picture ourselves doing.

Empathy allows us to connect with them by identifying with their feelings and emotions, even though we consider their actions and behavior unacceptable.

To give an extreme example, we might identify with someone’s overwhelming feelings of fear, intimidation and threat to their safety, but still feel incapable of committing the homicide they committed.
Sympathy is easy. For life’s challenges, like John, I prefer empathy.

 

12 Tips For Constructive Feedback

Whether a direct report, a manager, a colleague, a friend or a partner, giving constructive feedback is a crucial element of our relationships.

.

How you give feedback
determines how it is received.

 

I moderate constructive feedback sessions for teams and their leaders, and some patterns prove to be more effective than others. Here’s a set of keys that unlock the doors for constructive feedback to be well received.

Download and discuss them with those you give feedback to.

 

What matters most
isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.

 

So by all means, I’d love to hear your constructive feedback.

12 Tips for Feedback_Tobias Rodrigues

Is Your Small Talk SMART?

Last week I attended the 3rd Hola Barcelona Cocktail, an event organized by Barcelona Global to welcome new international professionals arriving in Barcelona.

The purpose is to strengthen the relationship between Barcelonians by birth and Barcelonians by choice. It was lovely. I met wonderful people and conversations were great, which got me thinking: What makes small talk interesting? 

The topic is important, but not everything — you can have a pointless conversation about a great topic! The key is HOW we talk.

 

Make small talk SMART:

Supportive, Meaningful, Authentic, Refreshing, and Tasteful

 

But, is small talk really that important? After all, it’s just chit-chat, right? Or not? Is there a connection between small talk and other areas of our life? 

As a team effectiveness trainer, I often join teams for social events after the training. And for 4 years now I’ve been looking for a connection between the quality of small talk and people’s professional and personal fulfillment. I’ve found one:

 

Effective leaders and teams engage in smart small talk.

 

There’s a chance I’m seeing what I want to see, which begs the question: Is there scientific evidence to support my findings? I did some digging and there is.

For instance, Judith E. Glaser has coined the term “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ”, a person’s ability to connect with others through conversations and to jointly think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically.

Judith and the people at Benchmark Communications Inc. have studied the neurochemistry of conversations and shown that managers who “talk smart” are more successful than those who don’t.

So small talk is not just a chit-chat. Smart small talk does make a difference!

Here’s an experiment to spice up conversations at your next event:

  • Step One: Identify interesting angles to the conversation, relevant aspects or perspectives that are being overlooked.
  • Step Two: Ask a politely provocative question. This will accomplish two things: you’ll get people’s attention and you’ll spark openings for more meaningful dialogue.
  • Step Three: Pick a positive message. This is important because you want to contribute to the conversation in meaningful way.

Easy to remember: Angle + Question + Message. 

What do you do to keep the small talk smart?