Almost every aspect of management and leadership involves striking some sort of balance. Difficult hiring and firing decisions must often balance the interests of an individual with those of the organisation. Strategic decisions will need to find the optimal position between, for example, available finances and ambitious expansion plans. A new innovation might need to balance what a market is ready for now, with what it will be most-likely demanding within a short space of time.
With so much time spent standing with their feet planted on this balance, it is really no wonder that any manager will feel the occasional wobble of unsteady uncertainty as competing priorities are weighed against each other.
In the case of the managers challenged with turning an organisation’s strategy into a real and working reality, it can be especially important to reach a balance between a desire to continually monitor employees to tweak the delivery of objectives with an entirely hands-off approach that permits a team to manage their workload on their own.
Most managers will see the need for this balance very early in their management career – perhaps after realising that an overbearing management style has forced employees out, or that a down-with-the-kids approach has earned them employee friends, but lost them overall respect. Realising this hard management truth is often a major step on a manager’s professional development, with those who fail to understand often found out rather quickly.
This issue becomes particularly acute in the context of managing teams who work in remote locations – perhaps in different emirates, different countries and on different continents. While communication technology, of course, makes such arrangements eminently more achievable, it also does not entirely overcome the challenge of time zones, different office and cultural approaches to work, and the simple fact that a manager may not be present for the vast majority of the time.
Video and teleconferencing, for example, make regular full-team morning meetings possible, even if employees are sitting at home or in an office across an ocean. However, when the calls stop and the emails are sent, there is still a sense – perhaps even a fear – that employees are left to fend for themselves. For a manager worried about employee autonomy winning out over any semblance of management, this can be a source of considerable concern.
Making sure this isn’t the reality requires a practical and dedicated approach that overcomes the natural division geography can create to better build an effective and functioning team dynamic. This needs to start with creating a positive team environment that minimises the distinction between those employees based inside and outside a team’s main location. This can be as simple as avoiding the sense of “them and us” in the language used during team meetings – avoiding the feeling that those dialling in from elsewhere are gatecrashing on an established group.
It can also involve ensuring that you make a similar amount of effort to establish personal connections with team members who aren’t present in your own office most days. Perhaps dedicating time during calls to engage in small talk or making space during emails to ask questions more generally of themselves. At the very least, it should involve readily sharing information and news – keeping everyone fully informed of events and becoming a predictable presence in employees’ lives, even if this presence is mainly in their inboxes.
Such positive communication should also, naturally enough, extend to the transparency and exactness with which tasks and expectations are handed out. Where asking questions and checking on timelines is more cumbersome than putting your head around a door, clarity avoids misunderstandings and room for speculation.
All things being equal, such steps are the moves any manager should be taking even when their team is sitting in the next room. Good communication, consistent behaviour, clear objectives and clarity on how performance will be measured; all are essential for good management. Taking the balanced approach to a globally-sited team really simply means incorporating the power of newer technologies into established, proven techniques for creating a high-performance team.
Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group
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