The first time I led a fully remote global team, I assumed that it would be no different from leading a co-located team. Things worked out fine for a month or so. But soon deliveries started slipping, intra team communication started breaking down and the blame game began! To get things back on track, I made a detailed plan with timelines, daily stand-ups and started managing the team more closely than I had done before. I believed this would bring things back on track. It did not! The top performer on the team resigned and I realized others would soon follow. At my wits end on what else I could do, I spoke to one of my mentors. She advised that I listen to the team to understand what & why things that worked before were no longer working. This blog is a summary of what I learnt from that experience.
It is the dream of every leader and manager for their team to be “accountable”. What do we really mean when we talk about accountability? Most of the time we are talking about a combination of
- Delivering on commitments (without follow up)
- Owning outcome (not just doing the tasks)
- Getting things done (completely)
It’s hard to disagree that accountability is a critical differentiator of super successful individuals and teams!
However, accountability has been an elusive attribute to hire and coach for. As a result, during times of pressure and stress, most of us usually fall back on the “tried & tested” approach to achieve outcomes. This tried and tested approach is “micromanagement”- the much hated leadership style for most individuals and teams. Unfortunately, our tendency to micromanage has increased exponentially in the remote/ distributed work scenario. Many teams are now at breaking point with our micromanagement!
The most important thing I learnt as a leader of a remote team was that accountability cannot be achieved through Micromanagement! Results may be achieved to some extent, but only after a lot of stress for the leader and the team.
I learnt that to build real accountability, we need to think of the following-
Is there mutual trust between us and our teams? Do we value who they are & believe in them? Do they trust us to be open, transparent and supportive? If the answer to any of these is a “no”, it means that that mutual trust is missing. Mutual trust is a super important driver of accountability and without this it is impossible to build team accountability.
What can we do to build mutual trust?
- Communicate openly and honestly with the team
- Walk the talk! Always ensure that what we do is consistent with what we say
- Value the team and show them that we value and support them. Show that we value them both in words and action.
Skills and Support
Does the team/ individual have the skills to do needs to be done? Is it a stretch goal or an impossible one?
Often, delivery is impacted because the person does not have all the skills to get the job done and is reluctant to ask for help. Often, we mistake this lack of skill as lack of intent and end up micromanaging the delivery. Only outcome is a stressed manager and stressed team! And a sub-par outcome.
What can we do to ensure the team has the skills and support?
- Ask the individual/ team how they rate the difficulty of getting the task done. Dig deeper to understand why they have rated it that way.
- Ask what they need to get things done and if they need help in any way
- Make it easier for the team to come to us or go to other team members for help when they need it.
Resources and Information
Does the team have the resources (beyond just headcount) to get the job done? Do they have the information or access to the right people to get it?
If the answer to either of this is a “no”, this is an important gap to plug. Many times, the team has all the skills and intent to get things done, but don’t have the resources or complete information. Many times, they may not know that they can ask for these!
What can we do to ensure the team has the resources and Information?
- Give the team the opportunity and confidence to ask for resources and information
- Do everything you can to get them the resources and information they need
- Be open and honest when you can’t do this- so that both you and they know that this is a constraint that you are working with.
Today we have smaller teams to get more done. We don’t have the advantage of co-location. We have lesser visibility into how the team is feeling. We have communication overload.
Micromanagement and blaming individuals/ teams is definitely not going to help! Re-thinking the way we create accountability is more important today than ever before.
It’s time for us to start thinking about “mutual trust”, “skills and support” and “resources and information” as key levers to build accountability, especially in a remote and distributed work scenario!