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Six Secrets to Connect & Engage Remote Teams

Discover six secrets that will connect and engage your remote teams that I learned directly from Aurelie Gouverneur. Aurelie is a leader who understands firsthand the challenges of leading a global team.  Aurelie is the Responsible Sourcing Senior Manager for Mars, Inc.  Her international team is leading the way in which Responsible Sourcing practices are addressed with first-tier suppliers, and they do all this remotely.

Here is a snap shot of her team:

  • 5 direct reports in 5 different countries
  • 6 different nationalities (including Aurelie)
  • 4 different times zones

When working with Aurelie’s team, I was impressed with the strong connection, engagement, and fulfillment of her team.  Their “Happy” scores are off the charts.  It is rare to see such a strong connection in virtual teams.  I asked her if she would share some of her “secrets” and she provided some replicable ways of working that keep her team connected.

Before we dive into the specifics, it’s important to know that she dedicates 40% of her time to connecting with her team – both in groups and individually.  Her focus and emphasis on creating a tight team culture using technology results in a team willing to go above and beyond.  Not only that, they have fun and like each other too.  They work hard and play hard, knowing the work they are doing is so critical to the well-being of our world.

This high-performing and happy team plans purposeful (and varied) ways to connect to ensure that even though they are sitting across the globe, they are up-to-date on both the work they do and each other’s personal lives.

1. Schedule Weekly 1:1 Meetings with the Leader

Aurelie has 1:1 meeting EVERY week for an hour with each team member.  The team member drives the agenda for that time.  She says, “My role as their leader to listen and support them in whatever way they need me.”  Her virtual meetings are an open space that can focus on personal and/or professional topics.  She recently asked the team if they would be willing to cut the calls back to bi-monthly or 45 minutes and the team pushed back.  They want the full hour and find that time with Aurelie critical to their success, development, and sense of belonging on the team. And she heard them loud and clear – keeping those meeting to an hour.

2. Facilitate Weekly 2-Hour Team Meetings Using Video Conferencing

The weekly team meetings are focused on team deliverables.  Here are a few best practices that ensure these meetings are high-impact:

  • The first 10-15 minutes are always a variation of a round table that connects them – like an icebreaker.  One of her team members usually plans these activities and they all have fun with it.  As an example, recently near the Chinese New Year they had a team icebreaker using the Chinese Zodiac Signs. Together they read the descriptions and talked about which ones matched each team member the best.
  • They always upload the slide deck into their Skype for Business so that they can still see everyone’s videos while sharing their screens. This way they can also type or write comments on the screen or use white boards to collaborate.

3. Use a Shared App to Replicate Break Room Conversations

One challenge of remote teams is they don’t get the opportunity for casual conversations that spring up while grabbing coffee or waiting for the elevator.  Aurelie’s team has created an intentional way to stay connected on a personal basis.  They use WeChat (China’s version of WhatsApp) to stay in touch all day.  They share pictures and comments about their families, hobbies, and activities.  This way they are connecting beyond the work and feel closer to their team members.  It’s also a fun way to support and/or celebrate with each other about life events that they would otherwise not know about.

4. Use a Shared Software to Collaborate About the Work

Aurelie’s team uses SharePoint to collaborate about work, but not just as a repository of files.  Her team uses it to co-create documents. They also have integrated Yammer Live Feed so they can post about projects anytime.  Yammer is especially helpful because they work across all time zones – and this app allows for on-going virtual dialogue about the projects they are working on.  Aurelie says when she posts a question or request in the afternoon, she often wakes up the next day and sees the answer posted in Yammer because others on her team are working while she sleeps and vice versa.

5. Gather for Face-to-Face Meetings as Often as Possible

Aurelie’s team is fortunate enough to be able to meet face-to-face multiple times a year. Her team finds this time together invaluable.  When they can meet face-to-face, she always plans something fun and memorable, like a sports event, or a food tour.  These team memories create a sense of “one-ness” that last beyond the time they spend together.

6. Assign Sub-Team Projects to Ensure Individual Connections

Aurelie creates a project matrix in SharePoint to ensure everybody on her team is working sub-teams with every other team member.  This ensures that they are working together and keeps them connected.  The small collaborative sub-teams learn from each other in the process too.

Her focus on building and sustaining this happy team culture is evident when you talk to anyone on her team.  They bond both by the work they do and because they care about each other.  This is not easy to do when every person on the team is in a different country.  This inspires you to try some things with your team – even if you only have one or two remote team members. 

Please share ideas to connect and engage remote teams in the comments below so we can learn from each other.

About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.

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2 Responses

  1. Great post. One build I would have – Is there an opportunity to share the PowerPoint content as a pre read so the meeting can focus on the decisions they need to make rather than listening to content. Love the other ideas !


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