Managing Team Dynamics in an Online Environment

Think about the team you manage. What are they like when they’re together? Are the group dynamics healthy? Are you, as their manager, able to read the room? In a strange way, this is becoming a lost art in a time of virtual meetings as it is even more difficult to “read the room”. Now that teams are all rarely physically together, managers can’t adjust like they used to, and it is a challenge to keeping meeting time optimized.

Optimizing team performance will help align your team and knowing how to manage group dynamics from a virtual space will help you, as a manager, and your teams thrive. Steve King, author and instructor at the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development, recently discussed these challenges in the webinar Optimizing Team Performance: Managing the Individual and Managing the Team, and shared key insight to help managers find balance for the whole team while they’re away from the office.

Introverts and Extroverts

Like any teams, your team is likely made up of a few introverts and a few extroverts. As you try to get the most out of your team, it might seem like the extroverts are taking over your group meetings, and you never hear from the introverted members of the team.

To help with this, remember that introverts like having some time to think before they share their thoughts. You can support them by giving them a meeting agenda ahead of time. If there’s something you want the group to read in advance, give your team time to prepare and read ahead. Finding ways to help all team members prepare will lead to stronger contributions and a more functional team.

Contrarian Behavior

You have likely been in a meeting with a contrarian – no matter what you say that one person must add something else or disagree with everything. Over time that does impact communication with the rest of the team and, as that behavior continues, it creates a psychologically unsafe environment. When someone else does try to speak up or present something new and the contrarian continues to behave in an unhelpful manner, the rest of the team will stop speaking up, and that’s then unhelpful to the whole team.

As a manager, you must know how to stop the contrarians from taking over. Encourage everyone to speak up and take turns leading the meeting (it doesn’t always have to be you). Send surveys or set up a chat box for discussions and ideas too.

For a deeper look at psychologically unsafe workplace environments, watch the webinar Optimizing Team Performance: Managing the Individual and Managing the Team.

Creating Clarity

MIT has done research on virtual workplaces and identified who manages virtual teams well. They found that the most successful virtual teams are great at task-oriented process when:

1. Goals are crystal clear for individuals and for the team as a whole

2. Work processes are well understood and well defined

3. Decision rights are clear and clarified early on

When the team knows who to contact when they have questions or need to get things approved, the whole project will be more successful because the team knows who specifically they should go to for clarity. Be direct and let go of past processes that no longer work. Step up your goal setting process, get aligned on goals, and make it clear who is doing what.

Team alignment needs to be elevated in every virtual setting and all projects or the team will not flourish. This way, if a team member needs help, they will know who else to contact. Tell the team what’s important and manage the environment your team is working in to the best of your ability.

Even the best managers have had to adjust in virtual workspaces to keep the team unified through change. Steve provides additional insights into managing team structure, collaboration, and talent management in the webinar Optimizing Team Performance: Managing the Individual and Managing the Team. If you’re ready to learn more about how to align your team, join us for Managing Teams Effectively, an interactive online program that will help you clarify team processes.