Yes, you can increase team effectiveness and performance virtually!

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By: Todd Fryling, PhD, Partner, Summit Leadership Partners

To paraphrase one CEO last week—”our revenues are down and several of our distribution centers are shuttered, but our team has never been working as hard as we are now.” How executive teams work together, tackle difficult topics, and make important decisions has changed significantly over the last six weeks as we increase our dependency on the Zooms, WebExes, and Skypes of the world. Yet, in light of the economic uncertainty we face, the requirement of executive teams to operate as high-performing teams has never been greater.

Given these new realities, we have completely shifted how we help clients increase team performance through smaller chunks of time leveraging technology to support the process. Over the last several weeks, we have worked directly with several top executive teams and captured some key learnings that you can apply to your efforts to strengthen your performance as a team.

  1. All the rules that apply for face-to-face sessions still apply but are that much more important. Having an agenda, establishing ground rules, clarifying discussion outcomes, setting time parameters, and logging decisions are foundational, yet often overlooked attributes of high-performing team behavior for face-to-face meetings. In virtual meetings, their existence or absence is even more pronounced in driving performance.
  2. Be conservative with how many agenda items you try to tackle. Everything moves slower in the virtual setting, whether due to a glitchy internet connection or ensuring that everybody’s voice is being heard. As a result, be conservative in setting team agenda to no more than 2-3 items requiring any form of discussion in an hour session. For sessions focused on skill building and practice, plan for 60-90 minutes.
  3. Don’t be afraid to call people out. Distraction and disengagement from the topic at hand is literally only one click away. This requires the team leader or facilitator to be that much more aware of participation levels as well as being able to read the virtual room for engagement levels. Web cameras are not optional. Don’t be afraid to ask how others are thinking or feeling about certain issues if you haven’t heard from them, and don’t assume the source of their hesitation. Often the greatest insights just take more time to formulate in virtual sessions. Leverage the polling and animation technologies provided in the virtual tools to provide different ways for people to interact and stay engaged in the discussion.
  4. Set aside time for a check-in and check-out processes. Before diving into the specific agenda items on tap, take time to check in with everybody, even if it’s as crude as posting an emoticon that best describes your current mood. This provides a great reminder that not everybody is at the same place at the same time. If that reflects the current reality of the top team who has the most control in managing the business, it gives greater insight and empathy on how people further down the organization are likely feeling. At the close of each session, use the polling function to measure the impact the discussion has made to help continuously improve how the team operates.

Executive leadership teams set the tone for the rest of the organization for how to operate in the new normal. Like any other endeavor, effective execution requires practice and commitment from team members to work on their performance as a team. Even amidst a crushing number of priorities demanding the team’s attention, taking time to work on how the team operates is often what separates the best teams from the others.

Summit Leadership Partners advises boards, investors, CEOs and senior leaders on strategically scaling business through talent and organization assessment, coaching, executive team effectiveness, leadership development and organization performance improvement.  In addition to using advanced behavioral science and data driven tools to uncover opportunities and challenges, our exceptional consulting team deploys real-world solutions based on proven business experience and acumen.

Summit is located in Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Nashville, New York and San Francisco. For more information, visit, and follow us on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.