FAQ — How to lead remote teams.

April 16, 2020
8 min read
“I never learn anything by talking. I only learn when I ask questions.”
— Lou Holz

We’re getting a lot of questions about how to lead remote teams. Here are some of them in a handy-dandy FAQ. As we get more questions, we will keep getting answers.This is a companion piece to OPERATION KEYHOLE - How to lead remote teams.

You talked about teams going through a new phase of forming and norming — how do you introduce new norms?

Norms are the (usually) unwritten rules that govern 'how we do things around here'. Norms exist for every aspect of working life, from punctuality to productivity, to how we present ourselves. Norms are fairly indestructible, unless teams suffer a strong external shock. Imagine a snow-globe being given a really good shake — the once settled norms are suddenly floating all over the place, and will gradually drift back down into a set of rules. Stick with the snow-globe metaphor for a moment though — if you were to hold the globe at a certain angle, then you could gently direct the snow flakes (or norms!) into settling in certain places.

Try the same with your team. One way to do this — bring the conversation about new norms into the open. Have the team define for themselves the best ways to work remotely. ¹

Consider creating your own list of up to six discussion topics, and use this a basis for the conversation. Once that basic set is agreed, you can tilt the snow-globe by gently and repeatedly mentioning, reinforcing, and rewarding when you see the new norms being observed. By gentle and frequent repetition, the norms will eventually settle back down again.

How can I get help navigating these new norms?

When early explorers first sailed the oceans, their most prized possession was a good map. Without one, reefs lurk, ships sink and crews castaway.

Leaders new to teams or organizations suffer similar experiences. It’s the norms that lurk, not the reefs. As new norms develop, most teams and contributors still feel a little lost. Norms have yet to become entrenched.

Take control of the situation by having an overt conversation with your team about the sort of norms that are proving productive and supportive. Flush those positive norms to the surface.  Build good habits early.  Reinforce and reward as you see them.

Weed out the bad habits. In areas where norms have yet to develop (possibly because they affect less popular topics, such as punctuality), have that conversation with the team. Don’t put it off.  Your job as a leader is to build that map!

Personality traits like introversion and extraversion don't change — what is a recommended (non-threatening way) to help someone like that adjust to remote work?

Everyone is going to react differently to remote work — especially in a crisis. We will all have our journey to adjust.

It’s important to remember that we work at our best when we keep our thinking broad and expansive. In times of stress or sudden change, that’s difficult. We hunker-down into narrow, fixed thinking patterns. Our strongest traits dominate.

Extraverts will struggle with remote work because of a lack of connection. You will need to help them by making sure they stay, and feel connected. Up the level of Touch. They might also be slow to adapt to a new working situation. At work, extraverts will have used their colleagues and the workplace to give them structure and routine. At home, make sure their Task is focused around structure — organize their work from home space, help them build their daily routine.

Introverts may seem to take easily to remote work. But beware a loss of connection and Touch. Make sure they are paired with others on some work assignments. Give them airtime in meetings and virtual huddles. Their Task could be to help colleagues — how do I work this process? How do I build charts in Excel? How do I [fill in the blank]? Put them in the role of teacher for your team.

What collaborative tools does your team use in a remote environment?

At fassforward, we use Google Suite for Business. It’s been a mainstay for us for a while. We like the way it lets us work together on the same files, even though everyone’s remote.

It’s not the only fish in the sea.  Microsoft Office and Apple iWork among others.  If you are looking for software to help collaboration, look for ease of use as a priority and an easy learning curve.

Most of us don’t get to choose the software we use. If that’s you, don’t worry. Most modern cloud based office suites come packed with collaborative features. Google “softwarename productivity tips” or “top softwarename hacks” to quickly get up to speed!

Why did you use Adobe Connect for your webinar?

Quite simply, it was the car we had in the garage.

We keep a constant watch on the technology as it evolves. For us, it has to be practical, and make our work more effective and productive. For that reason, we keep an eye on webinar software, video conferencing and virtual training. The market is moving quickly. We change our solutions based on the best performance, blend of features, and most importantly the ease with which our customers can access the platform. Adobe Connect has been a leader in these areas. Zoom is a new darling. BigMarker is a tool with a lot of promise.

Any ice breaking or non-work games that can be played with virtual teams?

An icebreaker is simply an approach you can use to get conversations flowing, and to break down barriers or shyness between team members. It helps amplify the level of Touch.

You might use one to kick off a face-to-face training session, to get everyone "in the mood" for a meeting, or to energize a team event.

Virtual icebreakers are the same, except you use them in online situations like a teleconference or videoconference. They help team members "warm up," engage with one another, and learn more about one another.

A virtual ice breaker can be a game, a quirky activity, a competition, or an exercise that's designed to challenge the way people think.

Some things to consider:

Establish goals and objectives.

You need to establish what "ice" you want to break, so that your exercise is productive. Do you want to encourage people to think creatively, help team members get to know one another better, or solve a problem?

Make people feel comfortable.

Think about whether there are any obstacles you need to consider that could hinder the success of your ice breaker, such as differences in language or culture. Steer clear of activities or topics that might polarize or offend people.

Time Considerations.

Do you want your ice breaker to be a quick five-minute activity, or something more substantial? You'll need to consider the meeting goal or objective, your team members' workloads, and whether they are calling from different time zones.

Similarly, consider whether the ice breaker is a one-off, or if you want to include one regularly. How frequently you use ice breakers will likely affect their content, and the time you spend on them.

You might want to rotate who leads the activity if you decide to have one at the start of every meeting.

Consider technology.

Decide whether you want people to use their webcam for the exercise, if you're holding a videoconference. Some people don't like using video chat or may not have the technology. If this is the case, you might want to choose an activity that doesn't rely on people being able to see one another.

You should also consider bandwidth (especially now with Covid-19) and how reliable people's connections are, and how time delays might affect their participation.

Communicate in advance.

Decide how much information you give participants in advance of the ice-breaker activity. You may want them to prepare beforehand, if the exercise would benefit from them spending time thinking about their responses.

Icebreaker questions.

  1. If you were a book, a movie or a song, what would it be?
  2. If you were a weather pattern today, what would it be?
  3. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  4. If you were a cartoon, which one would you prefer being?
  5. What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
  6. What's the worst thing you did as a kid?
  7. What do you do to have fun?
  8. Have you been told; you look like someone famous?
  9. What is that one thing which makes you different?
  10. What is your favorite food?


Each participant is asked to choose a letter of the alphabet. Duplicate letters are permitted. They are then given five minutes in which to describe themselves using single words beginning only with that letter. You could award a small prize for the person with the greatest number of words.

Two truths and a lie.

One of the best ways to break the ice is to get participants to tell the group something interesting or fun about themselves. A simple way to do this is to have your team take turns telling the group two true things about themselves, and one lie. The fun part is that the rest of the group guesses which of the facts is the lie. You can really learn some surprising information about people this way.

Share a snapshot of your life.

Prepare in advance for a future meeting. Ask your team members to share a photo of their choosing. It could be anything from the type of shoes you are wearing, to a snapshot of family, vacation, pets or anything they choose to share. Sharing a  snapshot of  people’s life is a fun way to get everyone connected. For geographically dispersed teams, this can help create powerful connections.

Play trivia

Trivia is a great way to help people work together as a team as well as get to connect in a work or a non-work manner. You can keep it simple with one round of trivia questions and then lead into the meeting, or you can go full out and use it as a team bonding experience.

You can also use the company “Fact Sheet” to deepen the learning of the company.  Go to your company’s Investor Relations site.  You should find a company fact sheet from which you can generate questions.

  1. What was our revenue last year?
  2. How many employees do we have?
  3. How many customers do we serve?
  4. Can you name a member of our Board of Directors?
  5. What is our stock price now?

Lets keep the conversation going!

What questions are coming up for you as we continue our journey into working remote? We always want to hear from you! Click HERE

¹ Be prepared to steer the conversation should norms be suggested that for whatever reason, are inappropriate.

Gavin McMahon is a founder and Chief Content Officer for fassforward consulting group. He leads Learning Design and Product development across fassforward’s range of services. This crosses diverse topics, including Leadership, Culture, Decision-making, Information design, Storytelling, and Customer Experience. He is also a contributor to Forbes Business Council.

Frank Mazza is a Principal Consultant, Executive Coach, and Lead Facilitator at fassforward. He works as a coach one on one, and a facilitator with intact teams, and large organizations across a wide range of fassforward's live and online programs. Known for his ability to present familiar concepts in such a manner as to give "life" to the content and spark renewed and sustained interest.

Michael Flanagan is an Executive Advisor and Facilitator with fassforward. Michael has a deep Organization Effectiveness background and he facilitates both live and online learning experiences on a wide range of topics including, leadership development, presentation skills, critical thinking and change management.

Peter Watts is a Senior Instructional Designer and Facilitator. He works on both fassforward's Live, Live/online and tailored programs. Peter is fassforward's lead instructional designer for Live/online experiences which deliver mission-critical leadership and communications training, globally, at scale.

¹ Be prepared to steer the conversation should norms be suggested that for whatever reason, are inappropriate.

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