5 biggest leadership mistakes I made in virtual teams (and how to avoid them)

Uh oh.

I put my headset down and buried my face in my hands.

We can’t keep doing this.

It’s not that the meeting had gone badly. In fact, on paper it probably looked like a perfect example of efficiency: everyone was informed and had their actions to do.

On paper, that is.

In reality, for the past half an hour I felt like I had been speaking to … no one. Everyone was on mute, so I had no idea how they reacted to the news nor if they even listened to what I had to say. It really worried me that there were no questions.

If only I could just walk up to their desk to check everything is ok.

Virtual team brings new leadership challenges

Thanks to technology we have the possibility to work wherever, whenever and with whoever. However, with opportunities and globalization also come challenges: how can we lead a team from distance in an efficient way while creating a team spirit and a culture of collaboration?

During my colourful career I’ve rarely been part of a team or leading teams that are physically in the same office I am.

Love it 🙂

But oh believe me, there has been times when I really wish I was.

Here are the 5 biggest mistakes I made when leading virtual teams and how to avoid them:

1.   Mixing on & offline in meetings / workshops

It seems to make sense that team members who are physically in the office dial in from the same room while the others dial in virtually.

But it doesn’t.

In fact, people who are in the room feel good, but the people online feel left out of the conversation.

You’re just a voice in the end of the line, missing all the fun. Meanwhile, for the people in the room it’s extremely easy to ignore people online and not give as much weight for their opinions as for the people who are present.

Play it fair: either do workshop physically with all team members or all members dial in separately.

2.   Only relying on email and calls

Emails get notoriously lost and can be misunderstood. What comes to calls, it’s often difficult to find a time slot that fits everyone and unless someone is a “meeting minutes” – guru, we tend to forget most of the things we talked about.

There are so many collaboration tools out there where you can ask a quick question (Slack, Skype…) or proper project management tools like Jira and Confluence where discussions and decisions are logged.

Besides, using instant messenger feels less formal and more like a conversation you’d physically have in the office with workmates – using emojis avoids misunderstandings and creates a better culture.

So before you send that email or invite out think whether it can be solved quicker with a message on collaboration tools.

3.   Inviting the whole team to a conference call while only 2-3 of them are necessary

It is so easy to simply copy-paste all the emails from the team call, but stop and think who is actually needed in the meeting? All of the team members?


If the topic is not relevant and some members’ input is not needed, you’re basically wasting their time. This leads into drop-outs in the meetings that really matter.

Tailor the participant list to ensure right people show up for right meetings, because they know they are needed.

When you feel needed, you are also more motivated to give real input instead of silently observing / sending emails during the meeting.

4.   Having a one way conversation

When you are presenting or having team meetings, very often I only used it to give the information out for my team and assign tasks.

Why? Because when everyone is on mute and you don’t physically see them, it’s not as obvious to have the two-way conversation you’d have in a physical office.

But we are still people and people need to feel connected to each other.

Start with small talk and ask how everyone is. Give time for each team member to tell what they are working on, what issues they have and what are their highlights of the day / week. Ensure that even the quiet ones’ opinion is heard.

If possible, have a kick off meeting and dinner / drinks with your team, so you get to know each other also in more personal level.

Once you can put a face to an email, it’s much easier to speak up.

5.   Not improving constantly the way team works together

It’s easy to get used to routine and work the same way you always have, using the same channels you always have.

But is that really the best, the most efficient way?

In agile project management, we are using retrospectives every two weeks to talk through with the whole team what we did well, what didn’t work and what could be improved. This allows the whole team to speak up and shape the way we work together virtually.

For this to work though, it’s important to have mutual respect and create play rules: no blame games, feedback should be given in constructive way and everyone needs to wait until the person giving feedback has finished before jumping in.

But what is the real secret sauce for creating team spirit and collaboration culture also in virtual teams?

Sense of humour 🙂

When you have fun and banter between the team members, the distance and borders suddenly disappear. You have a much more positive, solution focused attitude and you actually look forward to the meetings.

And I surely do – my team rocks 🙂

Best of luck,


Ps. If you found this helpful in anyway, please do like this or share your thoughts in comments 🙂 Would really appreciate it!

[This is part of my challenge to share one personal failure per week to help you see you’re not alone: we all fail. I hope this will help you to get unstuck and succeed in life 🙂 ]

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