Ways of Working Disruption is Here


Enabling high performing virtual teams and leaders is critical as they are the execution engine to deliver upon your strategic customer outcomes.

The future of work has accelerated faster than previously imaginable. Covid-19 has transformed how we work, and fast-tracked the transition to virtual work, even in the most traditional organizations.

Forward-thinking companies have even taken the opportunity and made remote work a permanent feature of their operating model as an expression of their new leadership style (see, for example, Siemens, Alliance, Novartis).

Whereas many teams might have made the transition to becoming virtual and working remotely, they are not yet in a state of peak performance. Many organizations have reported individually performance has increased, yet on the team level, it’s a different picture.

It is now critical for organizations to focus on how their virtual teams are organized, operate, and how they behave to deliver on essential business outcomes and achieve a state of peak performance.

Establishing high-performing virtual teams and leaders is critical. High-performing virtual teams that are cross-functional, autonomous, supported, and well-resourced can respond quickly to high priority, business-critical work effectively. They are the execution engine to deliver your strategic outcomes.

To achieve that, organizations must establish how teams need to be organized, what outcomes are expected, and how they are measured.

This article is based on Deloitte research and a series of posts we had previously published on what it takes to create and lead high-performing virtual teams in the ‘new normal’, drawing these together and providing practical insights.

#1 Define team objectives and structure

High performing teams need to be organized for focus and flow. Virtual teams need regular and transparent direction from leadership supported by metrics to track success and continuously improve. They also need to be effectively resourced, agree on team core values and address any inter-team dependencies.

Creating Focus

  • Sense of Purpose: Does the team know how they contribute to the strategy?
  • Team Objectives: Are the team objectives clear and understood?
  • Direction & Prioritization: How will the team know what is the most valuable work to deliver first?
  • Success Metrics: How will the team know they are achieving business outcomes and continuously improve?

Creating Flow

  • Roles & Responsibilities: Does the team have the skills & capabilities to deliver objectives?
  • Core Values: How will the team approach their work and collaborate with each other?
  • Quality Standards: What is the level of quality they deliver and expect from each other?
  • Inter-team Dependencies: What dependencies can be removed to minimize delays?

Both these require you as a leader to be clear and visible.

# 2 Prioritize essential outcomes

It is critical for the operation of a high-performing team that decisions regarding how teams need to operate can be made rapidly and based on limited information. A clear view of the current work helps provide a virtual team with clear direction on what needs to be done and why enabling them to focus on essential outcomes with focus and intent.

  1. The first step in this is capturing and reviewing incoming requests. Requests for work originate from across the organization, and these avenues of origin should be reviewed and validated.
  2. Once work has been validated, it should be assessed and subsequently prioritized. A definition of ready should be in place to ensure the work can be picked-up.
  3. Work assessed as high priority is then selected for delivery over a given timeframe and tools and techniques, such as Kanban boards and team stand-ups, ensure that flow is constantly reviewed, and any impediments are addressed.

#3 Focus on metrics and mindset

Building a continuous improvement mindset within the team begins with developing metrics and pulse-checks to monitor the wellbeing of the team and delivery of essential work and to adapt as needed.

  • Measure the flow of work: Use key business and delivery metrics, such as user adoption rates and throughput. These metrics should be determined, tracked and readily reviewed by the leadership team.
  • Leverage existing tools to track delivery of essential work: Collaboration tools such as Azure DevOps or Jira, have inbuilt functionality to measure team effectiveness and delivery.
  • Monitor individual wellbeing and team effectiveness: In order to certify team effectiveness is optimized, it is imperative to also focus on individual wellbeing, as a contribution to wider team success.
  • Continuous improvement and adaption: Retrospectives and pulse-checks can help teams to inspect behaviour and use outcomes to adapt the way they work. This results in continuous improvement and adaption. Having metrics that focus on both delivery and team wellbeing will enable you to understand current issues and adapt, simultaneously building a continuous improvement mindset.

#4 Role-model leadership

An effective leader in the physical workplace does not always translate to an effective virtual leader. Clear accountabilities and decision-making frameworks are needed to support leaders so they can, in turn, ensure their virtual team is powerful and autonomous.

Portrait of Agile Leaders

  • Understand and adapt to complexity, using this complexity to achieve business advantage.
  • Are flexible, able to plan and strategize as they go
  • Are able to make decisions with limited information available
  • Develop visions that give direction
  • Work cross-functionally with diverse teams, and foster such an environment
  • Are hyper-connected and always ‘on-the-go.’
  • Promote knowledge-sharing and continuously share relevant content with their teams, favouring open communication channels
  • Provide real-time interactive feedback and coaching

#5 Focus on wellbeing and culture

As the pandemic stretches on, many companies have adopted remote working practices. Leslie Perlow, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, states ‘some bigger companies who started remote work said it failed, but one of the reasons it failed is they didn’t build the type of culture that successfully supported it’.

High performing cultures embrace an open mindset, active listening, suspending judgement and respecting perspectives.

You should create an environment of inclusivity, social care and mindfulness in teams and monitor the happiness, engagement and safety of employees, whilst celebrating success as a team and more broadly.

High-performing behaviours include having high levels of trust, ownership, transparency and being purpose-driven, not just profit-driven.

A study at the University of North Carolina found positive emotions like trust, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and encourage productivity. Twenty-first-century success depends on the broaden-and-build model of positive emotion, allowing complex problem solving and fostering cooperative relationships. By communicating your culture, making time for virtual events and celebrating success, high-performing behaviours will be reflected in a high performing culture.

Mental wellbeing and team inclusivity should be closely monitored as virtual work becomes more prevalent. As lines between work and life blur, remote workers should be encouraged to maintain work-life balance, in order to avoid potential burnouts and preserve productivity levels.

#6 Optimize virtual ways of working

Precise and lightweight, yet disciplined, ways of working are required to support the optimization of virtual teams. They should encourage autonomy, innovation and drive individual ownership of work and processes. Leveraging principles from existing practices – Human-Centred Design, Customer Experience, Agile & DevOps, Lean – can help your team determine what works best for them.

In this digitally-focused era, there are a plethora of tools on offer to enable the virtual team environment, both with communication and collaboration and work and information management. It is important to have a standard toolkit that meets the requirements of your organization, for communication and collaborating will reduce confusion and increase fluency in these tools, enabling teams to be more productive. Teams should also have access to Quick Reference Guides and Superusers in order to receive fast feedback on how to best approach specific use-cases.

Like never before, being able to respond to changes with agility and adaptability is invaluable. It can be the difference between survival and succumbing to the fate of our ever-changing technologically and digitally driven world.

Organizations must focus on how their virtual high performing teams are organized, operate and how they behave to deliver on essential business outcomes. By focusing on these building blocks and a growth mindset, you can be productive and evolve in this ‘new normal’.

Learn more and read the full report here.