Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is spreading faster than we had all originally anticipated.

Workplaces are beginning to close doors, groups are no longer gathering, events are being canceled, and there has been such a demand for change management consulting regarding the creation of decentralized teams.

Today, I am planning on sharing the top 5 tips on how to manage your workforce in decentralized environments, whether that be due to the Coronavirus or simply the culture of your company.

Whether your team works from home (or anywhere other than the office), you will be able to use these tips to keep an effective and productive team together with accountability, trust, and forward momentum.

We will discuss what these tips are, how they look in today’s business environments and some pitfalls that arise from decentralized teams.

Likely, the most important thing you can do now as a leader is to show genuine and sincere concern for the health and livelihood of your workers. Doing so is beneficial in countless ways such as:
1. Increasing trust between you (the leader) and the team.
2. Increasing the team’s commitment to success.
3. Keeping the health of your workers intact.
4. Practicing and clarifying individual roles and responsibilities.
5. and many more…

Remember, nothing should be more important to a leader than their people. Care about your workers, quell their fears when you can, and offer continuous help and support.

The following 5 points are in no particular order of importance. You must personalize them for your team because every team is skilled in different ways!

Here are 5 ways to manage decentralized teams due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

5 Tips For Leading Decentralized Teams

1. Be a Flexible Leader

Being a flexible leader means keeping your schedule fluid, and making more room for your teams.
Being a flexible leader means keeping your schedule fluid, and making more room for your teams.

Being flexible as a leader or manager seems obvious, sure, but the truth is that many leaders make themselves available only in very tight circumstances. Leaders are always in demand, and always have something to do at any moment.

Being a flexible leader means making yourself more available to your teams. Doing so can have a great impact on minimizing assumptions, communication, and consequently, risk.

Take more time out of your schedule to dedicate yourself to your team. Whether they are working from home or other offices, give your members a call and let them ask any questions, resolve any issues, and make any concerns that they might have available for your input.

Remember, the leader is, in many ways, the facilitator between group members. It is your job to be a clear communicator between people in your team in order to increase understanding and productivity.

It is quite literally the leader’s job to ensure that all team members are taking actions that are beneficial to the bigger picture of the organization. By being flexible, you can do exactly that.

Being a flexible leader is about being available when it matters. Avoid being bogged down by unimportant responsibilities that aren’t immediately necessary.

Due to the rate at which Coronavirus is breaking up team meetings and gatherings, being a flexible leader is not optional but required for effective leadership.

2. Ensure A Clear Understanding Of Project/Team Objectives

If your team happens to be separated, or doing work from home as a result of Coronavirus than you need to enforce a common understanding of the purpose behind the team and its actions. In other words, communicate the bigger-picture to your team.

I like to think of leaders as the regulators between operational (day-to-day) activities and the strategic (bigger-picture) goals of the organization.

Ensuring that all people in your team recognize the importance of their actions is necessary for creating an autonomous and effective team.

Be clear about what the team needs to accomplish as a whole. Many times, it is an understanding of the end goal that allows us to adjust our methods and practices along the way.

Consider Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why“. He makes the point that those who understand the “why” behind their actions can take on and streamline any “how.” this is due to understanding.

Regardless of whether the leader is immediately present, the team that understands the result that must be accomplished can better develop methods of achieving it. The difference is in commitment vs. compliance.

Commitment results when people understand the larger purpose of their actions. Compliance results from the use of rank or force, or the attitude of “Do it because I said so.”

Commitment will always inspire a team to do better than compliance will. This is because commitment compels team members to take action, and achieve the goal, regardless of whether or not the leader is present.

3. Streamline Communication Channels

Keep communications as open and streamlined as possible. Decentralized teams provide little forgiveness for miscommunications and the effects thereof.
Keep communications as open and streamlined as possible. Decentralized teams provide little forgiveness for miscommunications and the effects thereof.

There are few things as effective to a decentralized team than communication. Streamlining communication channels can mean many different things, and is different for every team’s specific needs.

Streamlining communication channels can mean setting mandatory phone calls once a week. Or creating a dedicated team group-chat in which team members can relay vital information.

It can even mean an online or video- chat meeting in which everybody can without latency within their information. Doing so may help clear misunderstandings more effectively.

What is ultimately most important about streamlining communications is the team’s ability to relay MORE information FASTER than they would otherwise.

There is another term for this that is often used, it is called “Knowledge Management Systems.” Ultimately, a knowledge management system is very much part of the company’s culture and can be dictated as such.

Consider Mckinsey Co. (the large consulting firm), it is within their company culture that any phone call made from someone within the organization will be answered personally, with the information requested, in only 24 hours.

That kind of extensive knowledge management that rides all the way up the chain of corporate hierarchy means that any information you may need is hardly a day away.

Without hard-set communication parameters, valuable information may not be shared, which is detrimental to team success.

As a leader, encourage and enforce a timely communication structure in which team members can relay information effectively. Doing so is a great way to avoid the broken communications that result from decentralized teams, especially when dealing with the effects of Coronavirus on workplace behaviors.

Quick Tip: One of the best ways to ensure proper communication is by relying on verbal communication more, and on non-verbal communication less. That means more phone calls/ conference calls and fewer emails. It is much quicker to request and receive info from a phone call than an email.

4. Periodically Monitor and Adjust Productivity

One of the biggest issues with decentralized teams is the creation of bottlenecks where there hadn’t been any before. The difference in decentralized communications may cause issues to arise that hadn’t been present or, in the least, hadn’t been so obvious to team leaders before.

Consider this, in a common office, a person can request a task or duty from somebody else face to face, have it done quickly, and this task may never need the attention of the leader or manager.

However, with decentralized teams, differing communication channels, team behaviors, responsibilities, and performance may be on the line.

It is the leader’s job to ensure that productivity is up and that the team is making headway on the project despite potential setbacks. You can do this by monitoring productivity factors, timelines, goals, or any kind of indicator that can relay performance information.

Here are some ways you can focus on team productivity in the case of decentralized teams.
1. Focus on the goals completed, not the hours of work done.
2. Make your expectations clear and concise for each worker/team member.
3. Focus on quality, not quantity.
4. Avoid Micromanagement

If there does prove to be an issue or hold-up within your teams, diagnose the issue before you try to remedy it, there very well may be a larger issue you are unaware of that is putting off symptoms.

5. Clearly Delegate Individual Tasks And Duties

Delegation is a necessary leadership skill regardless of the coronavirus, however, it becomes doubly necessary in decentralized teams. Make the duties of team members very clear.
Delegation is a necessary leadership skill regardless of the coronavirus, however, it becomes doubly necessary in decentralized teams. Make the duties of team members very clear.

Other than ensuring a common understanding of the goals behind the team, a leader needs to communicate the expectations and duties of each individual.

Communicating individual duties helps team members become clear on exactly what their roles and responsibilities are, they will likely not waste time wondering what it is they have to do or accomplish and within what time.

A large part of this is accountability. Many decentralized teams function only as a result of accountability alone, the leader isn’t always there to enforce certain behaviors or look over the shoulder of his/her team members. Therefore accountability is paramount to creating a team in which all members respectively complete their own duties.

Delegating tasks among team members is necessary for leadership in any environment, however, it becomes much more difficult to maintain and enforce given decentralized leadership and the inherent ability for people to avoid confrontation.

Accountability gives the leader the power to enforce behaviors and tasks, however, the leader must first communicate these tasks well to the team members.

Conclusion

Coronavirus is encouraging many business leaders to enforce working from home to avoid the outbreak and potential dangers of group-gatherings. Ultimately, what the coronavirus is doing is forcing decentralized teams to culminate from traditionally non-decentralized environments.

A leader that is unused to managing teams in a decentralized environment may have a difficult time implementing changes and altering communication patterns and accountability in order to keep team productivity steady.

By using the tips above, you will have a great handle on the mindset and actions of a leader of a decentralized team.

Should the Coronavirus do any more damage, you will be ready to manage your teams while protecting them from illness. Ultimately, it is the mark of a great leader to protect their teams and adapt in order to do so.

For more blog posts, Click HERE!
For a related blog on effective management traits, please click HERE!
For an interesting blog on the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized teams, please click HERE!

-Austin Denison