• Priya Sharma Shaikh

Leading teams in a digital world


The last 25 years have seen radical changes in the way teams are organized, how knowledge is accessed and how individuals communicate with each other. Technological changes since just the turn of the century have deeply impacted both, our personal as well as professional lives. The world of 90’s, the world that I came of age in, seems like a distant dream now. The generation streaming into the job market today, called the Millennials by those eager to create simplistic narratives – is a product of these changed times and they have expectations and values that need to be understood better if they are to be led and managed effectively.

This is a generation that has come of age in a world of smartphones and social networks and instant messaging. They watch movies on the go, on their smart phones while chatting simultaneously with their friends and checking their feeds every few minutes. They know what’s trending at any given time and can tweet directly to their favourite stars and celebrities while they are nestled in their favourite spot thousands of miles away.

The Millennials are not used to waiting in queues for anything. Heck, they aren’t even used to waiting anymore!

It requires a different mindset to lead teams full of these employees. Of course, this is a problem only if you think it’s a problem. Technology and the affinity of this generation to technology, is a boon for those who are open to learning how to leverage it. It will make your job easier if you accept and move with the times. Here are some tips that I’ve garnered from my experience of managing teams in the over 3 decades. Although most managers can gain from them, these might be particularly relevant to teams in the new-age service industries.

Boss = Community Good Guy

Now I am not saying that you stop leading, but there’s a certain kind of leadership that works better in today’s digital age where organizations are flatter and teams are distributed. Yes, there are still targets to be achieved and tasks to be completed, but you don’t have to keep hitting the nail on its head all the time.

The digital age has made more knowledge available to people than ever before. Your team knows, or can figure out things, as fast as you can. What is needed, however, is a sense of purpose and some guidance. That’s your job. Just like a good community manager you need to set the context, get everyone on the same page, define their goals clearly and let them go about it. Be there to share your experience and expertise. Keep nudging them if you find them wavering. Encourage them to come up with ideas and let them experiment.

You never know what idea could lead your team to the ‘next big thing’

Use tools to communicate better

Walk into any office today and you will likely find a continuous stream of pings and buzzes all around with half the people peering into their phones. There’s not much you can do about it – except maybe asking your team to keep their phones on silent – but what you can certainly do, is use these very platforms to serve your ends.

Most of your team members are adept at and happy to use Instant Messenger (IM) applications and social networks. There’s no reason you can’t use them to communicate with them. It’s easier to communicate then and there on the same platform when you come across anything interesting. There’s no harm in doing it. However you need to be consistent with it and your team should use the same platforms as regularly as you do. It’s better you have a chat with them to know what platforms they prefer to use before using any one.

Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can be extremely useful for catching up on industry news and trends as also for generating leads and connecting with prospective clients.

For teams that are spread out geographically video chat is a boon. While earlier there was only Skype, today you can video chat on Facebook and WhatsApp as well. Face to face communication is severely under-rated, especially for teams that work from home. The team members need to feel they belong. One quick video chat a day should be good enough for teams that don’t meet on a regular basis. It costs nothing and helps you connect with your team.

Out of sight isn’t out of mind

It’s tough managing a team of people spread out all over the place. It’s impossible if you try and manage them like teams of yore. This is where point no. 1 becomes all the more important. The key is to trust your team. Just because they aren’t sitting in front of you doesn’t mean they are slacking. As long as work gets done on time and in the way you defined for your team, it shouldn’t bother you how and when they did it.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t oversee their work. Make sure you have regular update meetings, if possible on a fixed schedule every day. Use video chats as much as you can (but don't overdo it).

You will anyways be communicating over Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp throughout regarding work. That should be good enough to keep track of work. Don’t let it bother you that they are watching too many videos or sharing updates on FB during work hours. That’s not your concern, the assigned work is. Focus purely on that and the outcomes they are generating.

Learn better and faster

So let your team play with new platforms, devices and technologies. If they come back with a crazy idea, don’t rubbish it. Let them build on it. One of the greatest advantages of this digital age is the enormous resources now available to you and your team. It’s an open field today and teams that can learn better and faster have an edge over the others. While size still matters, the advantage has narrowed. In fact, in a lot of cases, size might go against you.

The youngest in your team is most likely to know more about new technologies and platforms than you and some of the older members do. Empower them to handhold you as you learn from them.

Encourage them to upgrade themselves by taking courses online or by attending those near you. Pay for their growth even if it means risking losing them to the competitor. Trust me if you believe in them and show them growth potential for them they are not going anywhere and if they do, you can’t help that anyways. Someone wise said that if I don't invest in my team I most certainly will be left with redundant liabilities.

If your goal is to build an excited team of individuals who are all plugged into their work then you need to give them the space to experiment and fail. That’s how you learn and grow and that’s what everyone desires. If they don’t, then they are more likely to leave... and of course that is good too. The changes we’ve seen in the last couple of decades are going to pale in front of the ones that lie in the not so distant future.

Change is like they say the only constant, so take it on by the horns and make it work for you.

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