Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Management Competencies For Main Distant Groups eLearning Trade

Bringing teams together when we’re far apart

Although most of the work today is collaborative, with more and more teams working remotely, most individuals and teams don’t have a great remote collaboration playbook. Just seeing each other on computer screens makes us feel more isolated. Executives often struggle with creating a community for their remote workers. When leading a remote team, promoting healthy, productive team communication and collaboration in an online environment must be a top priority. If you focus on these three competencies, you will come a long way to successful team dynamics and results.

1. Build psychological security for maximum team performance

Research in both academic and commercial fields has repeatedly shown that how team members interact with one another is critical to high team performance [1]as well as critical metrics such as employee satisfaction, wellness and loyalty.

Unhealthy team dynamics can be triggered by fear of embarrassment, rejection, and other negative social consequences. Fear is a powerful motivator for employees to adapt, participate, not express a disagreement or a different point of view – not bringing everything they have to offer.

In order for a team to have more honest discussions, problems quickly and effectively to emerge and solve, and to welcome and use more diverse perspectives and ideas, the team members need to feel psychologically secure. That means they trust each other to show mutual respect and support when they are themselves and honest. When teams have a high level of psychological security, the team members bring more of themselves and their work with them.

Learn more about psychological safety and how to incorporate it into team habits here. You can start by promoting:

  • Healthy group norms such as:
    • Checking assumptions (instead of assuming you know what someone else wants or what is behind their words and actions)
    • Explicit communication about tensions and differences of opinion as well as appreciation
    • Mutual accountability so that all norms apply to all team members, especially you as a leader
  • Conversational Practices
    Use the structure in meetings to support all team members who have an equal opportunity to speak.
  • Attunement and empathy
    Team members pay attention to each other’s tone of voice, expressions, and other non-verbal cues.

Healthy norms, spinning behaviors, and coordination and empathy skills are mutually reinforcing and can be improved through intentional practice and feedback. Here’s an example of a built-in virtual team skills building program that includes all of these elements.

2. Enable meetings for connection and productivity

Online meetings are a very visible and impactful opportunity for team dynamics to unfold or flop. Getting the most out of online gatherings requires planning, good habits, and moderation skills. Here are some basic aspects of moderation that can take your meetings to the next level in terms of connection, engagement, and productivity:

  • Before work
    Use pre-polling, pre-reading, and questions as appropriate so people can think or research ahead of time. If you have a new topic or a topic that you want your team members to come to with fresh eyes, let them think about it before showing up for the meeting.
  • Use agendas
    Establish topics, including goals, intentions, and allotted time. Publish this agenda on the meeting invitation and / or in the group chat.

Tip: Don’t overcrowd the agenda. A short meeting that does one thing well is more useful than a long meeting that does not fully achieve one of its goals.

Tip: Use mechanisms such as “thumb polls” to adjust times and priorities as required during ongoing operations.

  • Focus and refocus
    When introducing a topic, focus on it by asking a question or reformulating the goal and intention. As the conversation progresses, forward people as necessary to align them with the topic / goal / intention.

Tip: Use mechanisms like a “parking lot” to “pin” non-topic ideas and questions to review again later.

  • Watch the time
    … to keep the conversation moving or to enable a deeper exchange of people with insight or depth on a particular topic. Timing can help the team achieve agenda goals instead of losing track of time and getting stuck on a topic.
  • ask questions
    … to clarify, challenge and review assumptions and open up perspectives. Asking well-chosen, well-constructed questions is one of the most powerful tools a moderator can offer their team.
  • Voice out the unspoken
    What is not being said or addressed, including underlying tensions and assumptions?
  • Invite you to participate
    Invite less active team members to contribute.

Tip: For best results, do so in a way that allows calmer team members to express themselves without putting pressure on any particular person. After the meeting, reach out to team members who have been quiet recently or have been quiet during a specific meeting.

  • Reflect and recap
    … what has been said or agreed. This ensures a common understanding, catches missed or misunderstood things and either brings closure or new energy to the topic.

Moderation skills are not only used to get things done, but also not just for large meetings. Setting focus, asking questions, speaking the unspoken, inviting to participate, reflecting and repeating help build connections and relationships at all levels, from one-on-one to leading entire companies.

  • Delegating and rotating moderation roles
    … to foster engagement, build team skills and be mutually accountable. Your team will benefit greatly if more people on your team develop their moderation skills.

Meetings can have many purposes. This list provides options for converting various types of activity into a virtual environment.

3. Build the technology fluently

This competency ensures that technologies like video chat fill in gaps between team members instead of dividing them further.

Technical difficulties are a common frustration in online meetings. You can’t get rid of bad internet connections, but you can make transitions to breakout rooms quickly and seamlessly. Practice until you can use breakout rooms, polls, chats, and other features quickly and smoothly, and make sure your team members have the training they need to be comfortable too.

For all its shortcomings, video chat also offers some significant advantages over face-to-face meetings, including:

  • Group chat allows team members to post ideas, questions, etc. without verbal interruption. When leading a topic, ask questions and invite everyone to post their answers in group chat to get all perspectives in the room quickly and with the same visibility.
  • Anonymous surveys Let people answer questions that may feel too risky to answer openly.
  • Breakout rooms Bring intimacy, inclusivity, and productivity in small groups in the context of full group information sharing.
    • Working on a topic in several small groups is more engaging and allows different views to emerge more easily than in a single discussion in large groups.
    • People feel energized when they get things done, and small groups tend to be more agile and faster than large groups when it comes to getting certain tasks done.

This post [2] provides additional tips on using technology to support psychological safety in online meetings.

Familiarize yourself with these features of your tools, both as a participant and as a meeting host. Experiment with these features on your team until they are easy to use for everyone and the technology disappears from your group consciousness. Then the tool really switches from standing between team members to enabling better interactions and connections between them.


[1] What Google Learned From Its Search for the Perfect Team: New research reveals surprising truths about why some workgroups thrive and others falter

[2] How to promote psychological security in virtual meetings

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