Part 4: What can leaders do to support remote collaboration?

Summary: The skill of leading a remote team demand more of the leadership skills we may already possess, but may also require a new mindset and greater awareness of how leaders can best communicate - when, using what channel and for what reason. Collaboration will be enhanced by creating an environment that is seen as psychologically safe, where people can contribute, ask questions, and share thoughts and feelings without fear of recrimination. Since not all problems demand the same treatment, considering their nature and what this requires will help allocate time and people more effectively.  By keeping an eye on the ‘long win’ through investing in relationships and ways of working, your team will be ready to work together when the moment comes. And in the ‘collaborative moment’, ​leader’s behaviour can model what they want in terms of contributions, and also indicate confidence in the team and readiness to hear what they have to say.

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Part 3. Online Teams collaborate differently online to when they are round the table

You may remember from the introduction that this multi part article started as a way of making sense of the differences in behaviour that became evident as team problem - solving activities moved to video conferncing online. Comparisons from pre-pandemic training events indicate that ‘round the table’ groups start to make decisions about how to approach a task and then complete it sooner than online groups. Video conferencing groups seem to be more hindered by difficulties in recognising what needs doing, dividing up tasks and re-structuring the group into sub groups. In addition this organisation of the team into sub groups is not always controlled by the group themselves.

Additionally, it seems that document sharing although wonderfully enabled by file sharing software does not provide the same exploratory experience as handling a piece of paper!

In turn, these things seem to impede on the degree and quality of collaborative discussion, particularly important as problems become more complex, some of which was covered in Part two.

Differences fall into the following areas:

1) how groups organise themselves and the workload.
2) how groups work with the information available.
3) how groups use their individual capabilities, including emotional responses and critical thinking abilities.

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Part 2 - Interacting with others on screen: how video call communication shapes participation differently compared to a group around a table.

Just as round a table, participation online varies according to how many people are present, and how well they know each other. We can be the equivalent distance of across the table from someone when we are having an on screen conversation, usually less! but the gulf between us can often feel much wider. Aside from that, there are also some distinctions in how and what we communicate. In complex problem solving team activities, there is evidence for:

  • reduction in challenge and support of ideas.
  • fewer contributions and participation overall.
  • less insight or break through ideas.
  • more generalisations and rush to make connections without evidence.
  • more risk averse options.

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Pt 1 of Does a successful team have to be in the same room, or can they perform just as well online?

How successful is online collaboration? With a major shift to working via screens, managers and leaders maybe witnessing a decline in our capacity to apply critical thinking and work collaboratively especially when faced with complex scenarios.

At best, people will perform as well as ever but at physiological and psychological cost to themselves. At worst, we are in danger of losing, and not developing both the skills of critical thinking, and the ability to work well with others we have not met face to face.

Critical thinking and collaborative working are far-reaching capabilities that are closely linked to our capacity for creativity and challenge, both essential for generating innovation and change in behaviour, putting these aspects of organisational life under threat if leaders do not respond to demands of working online.

This is Part One of a five part series.

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