As a result of COVID-19, lots of businesses have had to learn how to manage multiple teams in multiple locations pretty quickly. For other companies, however, it was just business as usual, as having multi-site teams has always been a part of their culture. We’re not just talking about large national and multinational corporations here. Even pretty small operations can benefit from having a presence in various places. It can help with the never-ending search for talent, and can also be essential when different parts of a business serve different regions or industries.
On the downside, companies with far-flung teams do sometimes encounter issues with the way they operate compared with single-office teams. Motivating satellite teams can be a problem, and in extreme cases, discipline or productivity can break down while the cat’s away. Perhaps the most common issues are with the personnel themselves, particularly in the way they interact.
There will always be talented people who don’t talk themselves up to remote managers. Those will end up being passed over for promotions and other opportunities, while the more vociferous and self-promoting individuals get noticed and claw their way up the ladder. This often leads to resentment and whispering campaigns – never a good thing for a business. CIO’s Sarah K White talks about introverts and extroverts here, and it’s well worth a read.
So how do you keep a remote team productive and harmonious with a low employee churn rate? Below are our favourite 4 tips for managing multiple teams. They shouldn’t be taken in isolation as they feed off each other, although they will certainly need balancing to fit the specific needs of your team.
1. Make motivation your top priority
A motivated team is the goal of any business. High motivation leads to better retention, lower absenteeism, a common drive to succeed, improved discipline, better ideas, and better mental health and wellbeing. And all that leads to higher profitability and personal satisfaction.
However, motivation doesn’t always come naturally, no matter how much employees love their jobs. When managing multiple teams, the telltale signs of low motivation are even harder to spot, as you’re not directly managing the same team day-to-day.
The problem is that different people are motivated by different things in the workplace. Some are genuinely and openly there for the money, and will do excellent work because they understand that the two are connected. Others love the creativity or the challenges of the job and thrive on the approval of colleagues and superiors. Many are prepared to put the hours in to build a career and improve their CVs but probably won’t stick around for too long. Finally, there are those who love the camaraderie and the social elements of the job.
The only way you’re going to find out who is motivated is to communicate on a regular basis and keep an appraisal schedule. This will allow your employees to vent their frustrations and sing their praises, and – importantly – to get permission to put their ideas into action if they support your business’s strategy.
It can be difficult to keep an appraisal schedule with remote teams, but it’s absolutely essential. You can do this by planning remote meetings in employees’ diaries, setting concrete dates and giving yourself preparation time to get up to speed with their situations. Even better, if you can meet face to face, you’ll probably find a more personable, less distracting experience for both sides. Perhaps hiring a room in a central location and inviting several employees to visit, along with a social event, would work in your situation. Here’s some more advice on building and managing a virtual support team.
2. Maintain consistency across locations
If your teams are split simply to spread yourself out geographically, rather than to address local variations in your skillset, it’s vital that there’s a degree of consistency if you want to avoid disgruntlement. If one office has a city centre location, an Xbox, a pool table, and Friday evening drinks, while the other gets a draughty office just outside a dreary backwater town with a dodgy internet connection, don’t be surprised if the second team members actually feel like the second place.
Of course, not everything can always be identical, especially when location is taken into account, but trying to maintain parity over locations is vital. After all, those perks are there for a reason, and it’s to create a happy space and a motivated workforce., Sso, it makes no sense to leave them out of one team’s office life.
3. Ensure the hierarchy is effective
It’s impossible to be in two places at once, let alone ten. So if you’re the sole owner of a business, it can be difficult to oversee the whole operation. The time-honoured method of employing trusted lieutenants to oversee the running of the individual offices becomes vital in leading multiple teams. They don’t necessarily have to be equals – the deputy CEO might be hands-on in a certain location, for example – but they should have a direct line of communication with the owner and head management team.
The less micromanagement you have to perform through your proxies, the better., however. Ensure your line managers understand not only their roles but also what are the limits of their decision-making powers are. If you trust them to make good decisions, they’ll do it, with senior management only needing to play a part when there are serious issues.
These managers are not only conduits for trickle-down instructions; they will also be feeding back to you on the state of the team and its players. By having an in-depth understanding of the team, they will be able to delegate work, appoint an internal hierarchy and plan for their own absence by ensuring everyone knows who to turn to.
As management will be a large part of their role, always make sure you show them that you trust them to make decisions on your behalf. Even if they do something you might not have done yourself, as long as they can justify their actions, you’ve got a useful second-in-command.
4. Get to know your people
Finally, the most difficult thing when leading multiple teams is getting to know your teams by meeting them face to face. Depending on how spread-out they are, this can be relatively straightforward or downright challenging – but do try and take the time to do it. All three tips above will be helped by this personal touch, and your staff will feel more able to approach you personally with any ideas or grievances that they might not feel confident enough to raise internally.
Getting to know the team members will help you to identify the bright sparks too, which could end up being useful when you’re looking to make promotions or build a team for a specific project from across the whole business.
Perhaps the most important reason is simply to get the most out of your business and to make personal and business connections that you might keep for your whole life, even if they move to other companies. It’s highly rewarding to both parties if you ask how someone’s kids are, and know their names, or chat about the trials of the obscure football team an employee supports. They’ll feel valued, and you’ll be getting personal satisfaction of your own.
All the tips above take time and energy, and almost certainly get better with practice. Without a doubt, though, they are worth it and will make your business a happier and more profitable place.
If you’re interested in learning more about team management from our experts, there are more blogs on the subject here – why not take a look?