Leading a Distributed Team: One Email to Write

One commonality among association volunteer leaders is the nature of the teams they lead: distributed. Leading a distributed team presents challenges that many of us don’t have in our day-to-day jobs (although this is increasingly changing) so it’s a skill we need to help volunteers build. In a training for volunteer leaders on the topic, I offer a key ingredient for success: a commitment to communications.

A few tips for acting on this are embrace the white spaces/quiet pauses in meetings and on calls, use open-ended questions in conversations and meetings, and embrace technology as a tool for collaboration, sharing and dialog. Perhaps the most important tip though is frequency. Out of sight, out of mind. With distributed teams, especially volunteer teams which do not take priority in most lives, this adage is so true. If as a volunteer leader, you don’t make regular connections with your team, you will fade into the background.

One easy way is a regular update to the team. This update could be a simple email, discussion post or announcement from your team community page, or a quick podcast to the team. Yes, why not a podcast as Erin
Macpherson said if orange is the new black, podcasting is the new oral report

If email is more your style, then here’s a blog post worth reading from Dan Ruch: “This Is the 1 Email You Must Send Every Week.” His formula for an update email is priceless. If has four parts:

  • Highlights-This is the fun part.
  • Lowlights-The “lowlights” section should contain more than bad news or a list of things that have gone wrong.
  • Upcoming deliverables-This is the heart of the weekly update.
  • Past deliverables-If the upcoming deliverable section is the heart of the weekly update, then past deliverables are the lungs, or some other vital organ.

How often and the channel need to fit you. How will you commit to communications?