No one-size-fits-all approach in managing a remote team: situational leadership becomes more important than ever

No one-size-fits-all approach in managing a remote team: situational leadership becomes more important than ever

15 May 2020
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • Last Thursday evening, we had our first virtual round table ‘Going Beyond Micro Management’. Thanks to the people who have shared their time with us. In this article, I would like to share one of the insights with you.

  • The ideal remote work setting

  • The textbook scenario for remote working is straightforward:

    1. Formulate clear objectives;
    2. Give freedom on how to reach the objectives;
    3. Support and coach during the execution process;
    4. Evaluate the deliverables together.
  • However, the habits from the past make a big difference now

  • The situational leadership model introduced by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969 is more relevant than ever. The most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the performance readiness (ability and willingness) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead. Applying the philosophy of situational leadership to a remote work setting gives us four groups of team members. Analyze each of your team members to see in which group they fits and then, adapt your approach.

  • The situational leadership model introduced by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969 is more relevant than ever. The situational leadership model introduced by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969 is more relevant than ever.
    1. High ability / High willingness: let them coach the others
      These are the team members who already master remote working. They have shown in the past that they can organize their work (make a daily planning, set objectives on the path to reach the ultimate objective; be disciplined; manage their own working hours,…) and deliver. Keep giving them this freedom. This is the group that will require the least of your time. Moreover, they can help you by coaching the team members who are struggling to manage their work, mainly those of group 4
    2. High ability / Low willingness: coach on the emotional barriers
      These are typically the high performers of your team who have, theoretically spoken, no problem to manage themselves in a remote setting. However, their personality (think of extravert people who get energy from contact with others) or their personal situation (for e.g. a difficult emotional situation at home) make that they don’t like working at home. Even if you give them (in a normal setting) the chance to work remotely, they will never do it. The only difference with the first group is that you must coach them during the execution of their work on the emotional side of remote working. Don’t worry too much about their work, they’ll manage it. Connect sufficiently with them by asking how they feel about it, detect their emotional barriers and avoid that these barriers have a negative impact on their performance (avoid that they move to group 3).
    3. Low ability / low willingness: just support them and use group pressure
      These are typically the low performers of your team. They use the remote work setting to hide themselves (even more). They need a lot of support in the execution of their work but will not ask for it. The less they talk to you, the better they are off – at least that’s what they think. So take the initiative yourself. Don’t make your support optional, just do it. Call them, don’t wait until they call you. Use the virtual team meetings to bring them to the foreground. Make their work visible to all team members. This way they know that delivering is not optional. Otherwise you risk that the others will get frustrated about this group.
    4. Low ability / high willingness: offer them your supportThese are the team members who like the remote work setting but have never learned to do it. They didn’t develop the habit to organize their own work. They are used to come to you several times a day to get your help. Don’t expect from this group that they will suddenly change their habit. Offer them all the support they need. If possible, make them gradually moving to group 1 by reducing step by step your operational support but don’t expect this will happen overnight.

Pain points of the manager

Your managers are

  • new in this role

    and

    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling

    and

    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • flawed strategical thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more

    and

    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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