Our small business is growing and we’ve expanded to a second location across the state. It’s my job to manage the accounting and operations teams in both offices. How would you recommend I lead multiple teams in different locations?
Dividing My Time in Dallas, TX
Managing across multiple offices is a challenge I’m very familiar with! Overseeing multiple teams in different offices feels like getting split in two. Managing people who you don’t see every day is tough. It becomes harder to establish credibility when you don’t work in the office regularly.
Not only is your authority on the line, but it’s also challenging to build rapport, as well as to hold people accountable. Building your effective delegation skills and creating clear, standard processes for each task will help. Clear instructions prevent miscommunication and ambiguity about expectations.
The key to leading multiple teams in different locations is to encourage cooperation and collaboration. Working together is easiest when you, as a leader:
- Establish big-picture, common goals.
- Develop ground rules for how everyone will work together.
- Determine lines of authority.
- Get buy-in from executives and subject matter experts.
- Find ways to hold team members accountable for their actions and job responsibilities.
Leveraging Communication Tools and Technology
So, how do you communicate clearly and lead effectively when half your team is across the state? Fortunately, technology offers us the answer. These days, it’s easy to share information across multiple channels and multiple locations.
Start with the right tools and tech. Tools to optimize your Microsoft experience include Exchange, OneNote, and Office 365. Also, there are many tools proven effective in managing specific objectives in single-office settings that provide even more value to multi-office teams. While you don’t need to employ every technology tool out there, explore your options to find the most effective solutions for your unique situation.
Finding useful communication software will help your team connect. Depending on your needs, there are several communication tools out there you might find helpful.
- GoToMeeting: Collaborative online meeting space.
- Skype: Internet-based video and voice calls.
- JoinMe: Screen-sharing, online meetings, and web conferencing.
- Slack: Inter-office instant messaging and chat.
Project Management Tools
Project management tools are abundant out there. Some tools are industry-specific, which may be helpful for your office. Other tools are universal, connecting any office across multiple locations. These products function as a storage tool, a place to assign and track tasks, and a way to communicate project status. Compare the options to find the one that aligns with your company’s needs.
File Sharing and Storage Tools
Cloud-based storage options ensure essential documents and media are accessible by your entire team, whenever they’re needed. From photos to documents to videos, store files safely in the cloud and get them to your team in any location.
The best mix of tools for businesses with multiple teams in different locations include:
- Software that makes it easy to hold meetings regardless of location.
- Project management tools that give everyone the same access point for assignments and files.
- Online document management systems.
Some businesses also prefer to host their proprietary information on a “home” server, so all team members are accessing the same, up-to-date information. A server gives everyone access to ALL the information they might need. However, with the availability of cloud-based storage, you may find no need for a traditional server for your business.
But no matter what tools your team uses, it’s essential they understand the value of using them. You’ve got to address the adage, ‘What’s in it for me?’ The importance of buy-in can’t be understated.
Individually, each team member tends to focus only on what they do. After all, most employees want their job to be easier. Your role as a manager is to enable their success. Use tools that contribute to the achievement of your ultimate company objectives as well as your big-picture business goals. So, while each employee’s focus is on himself, it’s your job as a leader to pull all team members together.
Building and Growing a Great Team
It’s important to have a mix of personalities and strengths within your team, spread evenly across your multiple locations, whenever possible. Different people will bring diverse talents and insights to the table. Foster a company culture where everyone has a valued voice.
When working across multiple locations, every team member must feel they’re not just a cog in the wheel. In a small business, each person is important. You must help each person understand their role and how they contribute to and impact the company. Show them how they influence the outcomes of your big-picture company goals.
To avoid the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality across multiple locations, “force” communication between the teams as much as possible. You should structure your day-to-day processes so your teams are working together and communicating to offer the best your company can provide to your customers. Your backup duties should cross geographies as well. For example, if your A/R person is in one location, put your backup/overflow/secondary A/R person in another area.
When you use the right tools and provide clear guidelines and processes, your team should have no problems working across multiple locations.
When Personalities Clash
While tools are available for almost anything you choose to do, PEOPLE are still PEOPLE, and everyone isn’t always going to communicate effectively or get along. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to deal with miscommunication and simple personality conflicts that tend to arise when a group of employees works closely together. While you can’t force everyone to get along, you can encourage in line with both team goals as well as objectives for the company as a whole.
Tools like DiSC, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and Strengths Profile ensure people fit into their roles. But it’s also best practice to discuss results as a group, so you better understand how to communicate with the different personalities within your company.
I can’t stress it enough: communication is the baseline for almost everything you do in an organization. You must help your team define the best way to communicate (both through those tools as well as well-established processes, regular meetings, and emails).
Address issues as soon as they arise to avoid creating more significant long-term problems. Provide constructive feedback rather than criticism, but above all, stay positive and straightforward.
Our natural tendencies are to spot elements of danger. This idea of diligence is reinforced in school, where we’re taught to notice problems and correct them. Often, people focus on the negative, and not the positive. This mentality doesn’t always benefit the team or the company—so, instead, pay attention to the effort put forth by your team and acknowledge victories, big and small. Giant accomplishments aren’t the only work worthy of praise; the day-to-day stuff matters too.
Lead by Example
No matter which office your team members work out of, they’ll look to management for cues about how to communicate, especially when geographically distant from one another. When you want others to use your style, you must show them by doing. Nudge your email-loving team to utilize face-to-face communication tools like Skype more often, by being the first one to make calls using this tool.
Be present as much as possible in each office your team spans. If you’re overseeing teams at two locations, your presence will significantly impact the teams’ abilities to work together. Even if it doesn’t seem obvious to you, building a rapport and connection between the two offices will keep everyone on the same page. Be a consistent factor for your teams.
Avoid having a “favorite” location, so all team members feel they’re on equal footing with you. Staying objective is especially challenging if you’re leading a new team at a new location. If possible, schedule extra time at the new site, so you engage with the new team members. We all tend to favor our home team but divide your time fairly, in a way that suits the workload.
As a leader of multiple teams in different locations, you must stay on top of what’s happening with each team member and facilitate better communication across the board. Prepare to jump in and troubleshoot, especially during the initial setup and transition. Once both locations are up and thriving, you’ll be surprised at how modern technology enables teamwork from almost anywhere.
Best of luck to you as you manage this transition to leading multiple teams in different locations. With careful planning, the endeavor will be a success.
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