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Mastering Leadership and Communication in the Digital Age

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Posted by Darleen DeRosa July 31, 2018

Man working on laptop with lightning arrowRapid innovations in technology have caused widespread disruption across the business world. While the impact of these developments used to fall primarily upon companies directly involved in the tech industry, few organizations can escape their effects today. The latest wave of digital disruption has completely transformed the way companies do business, promoting new approaches to productivity, communication, and team building. Organizations unable to adapt to these changing circumstances will find it difficult to compete and survive.

Leaders must meet these challenges by finding new ways to inspire and engage their teams. Only by developing flexible strategies that allow them to adapt to sudden and unexpected changes can leaders continue to promote the collaboration and drive that will help their organizations reach their goals. Furthermore, the same technological innovations transforming the workplace also provide a new set of resources that allow leaders to get the most out of their teams.

Embrace Technology Tools

The same technology that’s disrupted how so many industries function can also be hugely beneficial to organizations looking to enhance their flexibility. With more and more companies leveraging the internet to streamline their infrastructure and increase collaboration, this is not the time to cling to existing practices simply because “they’ve always worked.”

Here are just a few of the tools that can greatly enhance the effectiveness of collaborative teams:

Product Management Software: Today’s teams find themselves tasked with accomplishing a wide range of projects, often under strict time constraints. Gone are the days of employees showing up at their desk to perform the same repetitive tasks every day. With the more routine business operations increasingly being handled by computer automation, valuable human resources can be redirected to more critical tasks. Project management software (such as Microsoft Project, Atlassian’s Jira, or ProWorkFlow) breaks complex projects into smaller, easily defined tasks that can then be assigned to employees who complete them concurrently.

Team members can track progress on these tasks over time, and leaders can utilize the software to provide the information that allows employees to function independently, prioritizing work as they see fit. Once in place, an effective project management system can free up leaders from low-value managerial work and allow them to focus on supporting and inspiring their team. Since leaders can follow what work is being completed and when, the software makes it easier than ever to manage the accountability of team members and prioritize workflow.

Cloud-based Productivity Software: With small, collaborative teams forming the backbone of so many organizations today, it no longer makes sense for each employee to work in isolation. Cloud-based productivity software allows them to share work projects quickly and easily, even over great distances. This software has made virtual teams more viable and effective than ever before, enabling multiple people to view and edit collaborative projects at any time, from any place (provided they have an internet connection, of course). Providing this easy access makes it easy for leaders to give quick feedback and guidance at a moment’s notice, allowing work to be completed faster and more accurately.

Online Collaboration Software: There’s simply no substitute for the ability to communicate quickly and easily. While email is still an important method of correspondence, it remains a one-way transmission of information that can’t facilitate a genuine conversation or discussion. Sometimes collaborative teams need to discuss issues in real time or a team member needs guidance immediately. For teams working remotely or those spread across a physical office, online collaboration software enables them to get and deliver information quickly.

The chat functions of these tools also provide an opportunity for employees to remain in near constant contact with one another. In addition to sharing work-related information, they can also share important events going on in their lives or engage in conversations with team members that go a long way toward building the rapport necessary for establishing trust. This is especially critical for virtual teams which may not have much opportunity for personal interactions.

Encourage Flexibility

When it comes to digital disruption and fast-changing technology, people will be looking to those in leadership positions for guidance. Like any significant change situation, leaders have a unique ability to facilitate a successful transition or undermine the effort. By practicing flexible strategies, leaders can identify possible sources of disruption and take proactive measures to ensure that the organization and their teams are ready for them.

Flexible leadership, which helps leaders to balance efficiency, adaptation, and motivating/engaging people based on current demands and challenges, is critical for today’s organizations. The outdated images of the “heroic” or “born” leader have long since fallen out of favor with forward-thinking companies looking to develop leadership candidates capable of integrating the traditionally distinct roles of leader and manager.

By working to increase situational awareness to identify potential problems and embracing systems thinking that allows for the quick diagnosis and resolution of those problems, leaders can help keep their teams focused on meeting their stated goals efficiently. The increased level of contact and collaboration between leaders and their team members also makes it essential for leaders to set a clear example that upholds the values and mission of the organization.

Get (Virtual) Team-Focused

Communications technology has greatly enhanced the viability of virtual teams. According to Gallup research, 43% of employees spent at least some time working remotely in 2016, and 31% of employees were spending 80% or more of their time working remotely in the same year. Those numbers are certain to increase as developments in mobile technology, high speed internet, and cloud-based software push the boundaries of what’s possible.

With this sea change in mind, leaders in every organization need to consider how to best manage the needs of these virtual teams. There are a few key strategies that can help avoid some of the more common problems in the virtual workplace and set team members on the path for sustained success:

  • Communicate early and often.
  • Manage and resolve conflicts quickly.
  • Earn the team’s trust.
  • Promote a team culture.
  • Be flexible.

Given the demands of managing remote teams, organizations need to establish leadership development programs that take a holistic view of what makes a virtual team thrive. Fortunately, the same technologies driving organizational change make it easier than ever to deliver training resources in formats that are both convenient and adaptable to the learner’s needs. Virtual instructor-led programs (VILPs) and e-learning programs make training more accessible and scalable for virtual teams in organizations that may not have the time or budget to provide more traditional, in-person training.

The age of digital disruption is still in its early stages, but it has already resulted in extensive changes in the way companies are organized and how they do business. By embracing the same technological developments that are reshaping today’s workplace, organizations can provide their leadership with the tools needed to set themselves on a path to success.

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Topics: managing virtual teams, virtual workplace, virtual communication, flexible leadership

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