It happens to the best of teams. Things start out with a bang, with a virtual team getting a handle on the unique dynamics of working remotely and understanding how to perform at a high level despite spending most of their time working in isolation. Provided the team has a successful launch, working with their virtual team can be motivating, with enthusiasm that translates into engagement and excellent productivity.
Like any other team, virtual teams often reach a point where they simply aren’t making any gains in productivity or efficiency on a regular basis. This is often known as the plateau effect. While performance may not be slipping (yet), a team that plateaus is in danger of becoming complacent and could very easily begin to suffer from a lack of enthusiasm and engagement.
Successful virtual leaders find ways to overcome the plateau effect and get their team members inspired once again. They learn how to improve team productivity and get performance trending upward. When it comes to virtual teams, there are a few simple strategies they can implement right away to combat declining engagement.
How to Overcome Performance Plateaus in Virtual Teams
Provide More Feedback
It’s easy for team members to fall into predictable routines. This may make it easy for even outstanding employees to fade into the background and be taken for granted, especially in a virtual context where team members don’t see each other very often. In some cases, their virtual team responsibilities may be in addition to their regular role, making them more likely to become distracted over time. Without feedback to acknowledge their performance, they may begin to feel as if their work isn’t valued. Providing that feedback prevents them from feeling like they’re undervalued. If they’re doing things well, positive feedback can encourage them to keep producing.
Seek Team Input
By the time team members hit performance plateaus, it’s generally safe to assume that they know what they’re doing. This also means they might have some ideas on how things could be done better or how shaking up the status quo could improve results. Gathering feedback about team performance and processes also helps team members to think about how their role within the team could be developed, and what they could do to help accomplish goals more effectively.
Offer Development Opportunities
Employees like to know that they have a future within an organization. When they feel stuck in their position and don’t know how to advance their professional career, they tend to become less engaged and more likely to leave for other opportunities. When it comes to teams, creating professional development plans and providing training resources to employees who want to build valuable skills for the future helps them to stay focused, delivering results and performing at a high level. While this may sometimes mean moving team members to other positions within the organization, it’s actually a benefit in terms of succession planning. Even in cases where team members aren’t moving on to new positions, taking on additional assignments and challenging projects can help them to become reengaged.
Spend Time Building Relationships
One of the ongoing challenges of any virtual team is the lack of face-to-face contact. Once team members settle into their habits and routines, it’s easy to ignore the little things that help build and reinforce the relationships necessary for sustaining a productive team culture. Encouraging more face-to-face meetings can help people feel more connected to their fellow team members and invested in the collective success of the team. When face-to-face meetings are not possible, scheduling virtual meetings for the purpose of ideation and collaboration can accomplish many of the same goals.
Sometimes team members just need a change to shake them out of their normal routine. Shuffling assigned roles within a team provides employees with an opportunity to learn new skills, and challenges them to develop new ways of working and interacting with the rest of the team. Over time, rotating assignments between team members helps to build a more well-rounded team that will have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and react quickly when new challenges present themselves.
As another form of feedback, the way teams are recognized can have a major impact on performance. If team progress and goals are acknowledged, team members may begin to feel that their individual efforts aren’t fully noticed or appreciated. Conversely, if the team is overly concerned with individual efforts, members may not have a good sense of how their work contributes to overall team success. By shifting recognition mechanisms slightly, team leaders can emphasize different aspects of performance and reinvigorate their employees.
When teams inevitably encounter the plateau effect, it falls to leadership to find new methods of inspiring and engaging employees. Sometimes a simple shift in focus will be enough to spur their interest, but in other cases a more significant action will be necessary, perhaps even changing the way the team functions on a day-to-day basis. Part of being a good virtual team leader is understanding how to improve team performance by inspiring employees to take pride in their own work and be accountable for their collective success.