Leading a Distributed Team: Creating a Rhythm

Distributed teams are a common theme for association volunteer leaders as most find they are leading a group of individuals scattered throughout a state, across the US or around the globe. This is counter to what we experience in our regular job. Yes, that is changing, but still few of us have the skill set to match this type of leadership.

In coaching and working with volunteers on this, we focus on a few key ingredients such as commitment to communications and its partner creating a rhythm. The image I draw upon comes from my early readings about parenting where we were encouraged to establish a family rhythm. The definition I like best comes from Natural Parents Network Beginners Guide: Rhythm is the daily, weekly and yearly recurring activities in our lives that are done with intention and love.

It’s important to understand there is a difference between schedule, routine and rhythm. Again from Natural Parents Network:

Schedules are harsh, rigid, and demanding and center on the concept of “at.” (We take nap at 3:00). A routine is a typical pattern with some uncertainty and centers on the concepts of “sometimes” and “usually.” (We usually take naps by 3:00, but our day usually falls apart at some point so sometimes we do not get a nap). Rhythm is a flow where B happens after A and C comes before D. Rhythm is natural and organic. The key to rhythm is that it centers on the concept of “around.”

In practice, having a rhythm for the team means identifying the anchor points on which we form our connection over the air waves, i.e., not forcing meetings for the sake of meetings. Creating a rhythm is establishing the anchors or standard practice for individual check-ins, cues to alert team members to what’s important, and a standing team check in meeting or call.

  • Ask the team to set and agree to a standard practice on how often individuals will check in. Your standard could be that all team members will check in to the virtual group at least bi-weekly.
  • Provide cues that alert team members to news or important dates. Consider a standard email with a subject line: Team Buzz or Team Heads-Up. If you have access to text messaging, send a quick reminder or update to check the online community. You might send a quick email offering the main points in a group discussion thread to be sure the discussion isn’t missed.
  • Create standing team check-ins like a monthly call. The trick to not letting this become a meeting for the sake of meeting, so if there’s no reason, cancel the call or convene with a quick update and wrap up quickly.  

How’s your team’s rhythm?