How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams


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In today's so-called "freelance economy," teams are not always defined by a group of people working in the same place or even at the same company. These days with technology making it possible to work with anyone anywhere, teams are often groups of people who find each other online, who's members move from project to project working with new people and on new teams all the time. But how do you lead such an unconventional team? In this ebook, leadership expert, Steve Farber, outlines 3 essential conversations team leaders must have with their team members for their project to succeed. Read on to get started on leading unconventional teams to success.

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How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams

  1. 1. How To Lead Freelance(or Unconventional)TeamsBy Steve FarberAuthor of The Radical Leap
  2. 2. THE FREELANCE ECONOMYWay back in 1995, I had the great pleasure of seeing the legendary managementsage, Peter Drucker, speak about teams and teamwork at a conference for trainingindustry executives.Keep in mind the context of that now bygone era: CD-ROM was the latest, sparklynew technology, the internet was essentially a network of electronic brochuresdownloaded via modem to your computer at the rate of a millennium per page andThe Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith, first published in 1992, was all therage in management circles.“Everybody’s always asking me about the best way to build a team,” said Drucker inhis thick, German accent. “But it’s just a silly question, really, because it assumes thatall teams are alike. But they’re not. A baseball team is different from a football team isdifferent from a tennis doubles team. You have to have the right team structure forthe business and challenge.” 2How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  3. 3. That had never occurred to me before, but it seemed so obvious after I heard himsay it: Build your team structure to best suit your business need and be willing to tear itdown and start over with a new structure as the needs change — and change theywill.Here we are 20 years later, living in a technological world more globalized,interconnected and mobile than even the venerable Peter Drucker could haveimagined, and new kinds of teams — driven by new media, challenges andopportunities — are sprouting up every day: virtual teams within a global companyand project teams composed of people from different companies who may havenever met in person. We’re working in what some have dubbed a “freelanceeconomy,” where it is no longer necessary to have a company or formal team incommon in order to work together to accomplish a project.All over people are using the internet and cloud-based technologies to form teamsand collaborate on and see a project through to completion. This is the case at largecompanies that recruit freelancers and contractors to help accomplish projects. It’salso the case for less formal groups of people — people who may come togetheronly to accomplish a single task for a company that may not even exist yet. Whenthe project ends, the team dissembles. Or not. Some go on to work on other projectstogether. This is the freelance economy, and it’s a faction of the remote anddistributed workforce, adding to the complexity of managing teams. 3How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  4. 4. No matter the structure of the team, no matter the challenge the team is working on,and no matter the proximity (or lack thereof) of its members, there are three things allsuccessful teams have in common: 1. They are all made up of human beings. 2. Human beings perform better with great leadership (although not necessarily the traditional top-down kind). 3. Great team leaders foster meaningful connection among the members of the team.Teams thrive on collaboration made up of meaningful connection with one another,and individual team members will perform better when they feel like they’re all in ittogether. You need to connect your team members to one another on a personallevel. So, if you find yourself leading (or being expected to lead) a virtual team, yourprimary job is to go out of your way to facilitate the very interpersonal connection thatremoteness tends to inhibit. 4How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  5. 5. And while nothing encourages trust and connection better than good old locked-in-the-same-room, face-to-face, oxygen-sharing meetings and social time, assume thatyou’ll never have that luxury with your virtual team. Even though it is, arguably, easierto lead a team that lives under the same roof, that’s a rarity these days. The goodnews is you can still get your team to know, trust and commit to each other by usingvirtual collaboration tools like web conferencing and social workspaces to enjoyface-to-face conversations and continuous collaboration.Connection is all about conversation, and, as the team lead, you’re in charge ofmaking sure those conversations happen. To help you get started leading a virtualteam, here are the conversations you need to facilitate between your teammembers to get them connected, on the same page and ready to work togetheracross time and distance. 5How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  6. 6. THE 3 CONVERSATIONS YOU NEED TO HAVEWITH YOUR TEAMConversation 1: Personal DiscoveryTo prepare for Conversation 1, write down the names of the people on your team.Now, list everything you know about each person—beyond the team function he orshe serves. Do you know anything about their family? How about previouscompanies they’ve worked for? Can you list any successes they may have had orfailures they’ve endured? Do you know anything at all about their personal andprofessional hopes, needs, dreams and aspirations for the future? Assess how muchyou know or don’t know about each as a human being. The less you know, the moretenuous your trust and connection is with that person.Each day for the next week, connect with as many people on your team as possiblethrough a medium other than email; video conferencing is the best alternative to anin-person meeting, but you could use the phone too. And instead of getting rightdown to business, spend some time checking in on a personal level with the goal oflearning as much as you can about who this person is and what makes him or hertick. 6How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  7. 7. As uncomfortable as this might be at first, ask each person to share with you his or hernumber one business/career/work challenge. Now dig a little deeper, and try touncover a personal goal or dream. And if the opportunity presents itself, learn at leastone important story or event from his or her life.With some, you may have to coax a bit — but you’ll be surprised how many will openup right away. And once they do…Ask if there’s some way you can be of service — is there something you can do tohelp with their challenge or get them closer to their personal goal? Even if that persondeclines your offer, he or she will appreciate your asking.At the end of the week, you’ll not only have a much deeper knowledge of eachindividual on your team, you’ll have shown each individual that you care. And thenyou’ll be ready for… 7How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  8. 8. Conversation 2: What Is This Project/Team Really About?John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, once said in an interview that a businessshould be able to identify and articulate its “higher meaning and purpose.” Yes,money is important. So are the deliverables, client outcomes, job descriptions andexpectations etc. — all those things we learned back in Project Management 101.But human beings have a deep, primal need to be a part of something great,something significant, something meaningful. And if you can tap into that need andhelp to fill it for your team members, they’ll put much more energy and creativity intotheir work. Your job as a leader of this virtual team, therefore, is to cut quickly throughthe transactional elements of the work, go right to the essence of its meaning andthen lay it out clearly for all involved.The first step is for you: Carve out some solo time to think about your project andreflect on the challenge ahead. Ask yourself the following questions and write downyour responses and answers: 1.  What is this project really about — beyond its obvious transactional activities and details? 2.  What kind of impact are we trying to have on the lives of our customers/end users? 3.  How does each of us contribute to the enhancement of our end user’s life and business? 8How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  9. 9. Feel free to add other similar questions and allow yourself to follow your musingswherever they take you.When you’re satisfied with your answers (you’ll know because of how energized andinspired you feel), the next step is really quite simple: Talk about it with your team.Share it on your screen in your web conferences and ask people to respond. Askthem to think about the same questions and share their answers at a subsequentmeeting.Watch what happens to the energy of the team. 9How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  10. 10. Conversation 3: What Does Success Look Like For Us?It’s become conventional wisdom that in order to get people excited about thepresent, you should talk about the future. You should have a vision of where you’reaspiring to go and communicate it clearly to all the stakeholders. Well, theconventional wisdom is true, but the practice is rare.As important as vision is to us, the act of having and communicating vision ismysterious and even intimidating to most. But there’s really nothing mysterious aboutits value: The clearer and more inspiring the picture of our end goal is, the morecommitted we are in the work we’re doing today to make that vision a reality.Your job, then, is to paint a clear and compelling picture of the end state of theproject. Not to worry, though! There’s no crystal ball required for this. Vision isn’t aboutpredicting the future, it’s about envisioning what you’re striving to create, thendescribing that end-state in vivid detail. 10How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  11. 11. Here’s a simple process that you can do on your own or with your team: A.  Roll the clock forward and imagine that your project is complete, and that it was a phenomenal, earth-shattering success. B.  Make a list of everything you accomplished as a team. C.  Write down all the ways you and each of your team members gained personally from having worked on this project. D.  Describe the legacy you’ve left behind, the reputation you’ve established individually and collectively, how your clients describe the impact you’ve had on them, etc. E.  Now, using those notes as a guide, write at least one paragraph to complete this statement: “At the end of our project, here’s what our success will look like…” F.  Share it with your team and get their input.These three conversations do require some time and energy (what greatrelationships don’t?), But they don’t have to be an all-consuming effort. Evenif your team is working on a tight deadline, or if you’ll only be workingtogether for a short period of time, your investment in these conversationswill, I believe, ultimately save you time. But you’ll need to be smart about theplatform you use to create the dialogue and share your perspectives. 11How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  12. 12. THE RIGHT WAY TO HAVE THESECONVERSATIONSWe can’t talk about connection without talking about technology and its offeringsand shortcomings. If you are providing team updates through email and conductingteam meetings by phone, you’re behind the times. Web conferencing with videoand screen sharing bridges the gap between distributed team members. It’s theclosest thing you can get to meeting in-person, and it’s more productive than anaudio conferencing.People connect better with each other when they see each other, and the more ourvirtually-working world becomes the norm, the more we crave quality, face-to-faceconnection and communication — the kind of meaningful, personal interactionwe’ve talked about here. The kind that brings teams closer together. The good newsis, we now have the tools to create that closeness, even from a distance. If you’reserious about leading teams, you need to consider the technology you’re using tohelp you foster that connection efficiently.And if you’re thinking that email is the easiest, most efficient conduit forcommunication, think again. According to CareerBuilder, 89 percent of Americanworkers say email, text and voicemail actually get in the way of workplacerelationships. Instead, you and your team will be better served to invest in a projectmanagement work platform where teammates can provide updates, track progressand collaborate with each other asynchronously. 12How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  13. 13. The right technology can help you accomplish more, so make sure you’re offeringyour team the technologies that keep them virtually connected.Looking ahead into this post-Drucker, increasingly chaotic and simultaneously excitingworld of work, not much is clear, except for this: No matter how much the world welive in and the technology we work with changes, no matter what unforeseenstructures future teams will require, our success will ultimately be tied to the quality ofour leadership.My mentors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, said it beautifully in their classic book, TheLeadership Challenge: “Change is the province of leaders. It is the work of leaders toinspire people to do things differently, to struggle against uncertain odds and topersevere toward a misty image of a better future. Without leadership there wouldnot be the extraordinary efforts necessary to solve existing problems and realizeunimagined opportunities. We have today, at best, only faint clues of what the futuremay hold, but we are confident that without leadership the possibilities will neither beenvisioned nor attained.”Are you ready for the challenge? 13How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  14. 14. About Steve Farber Steve Farber is the former Vice President of legendary management guru Tom Peters’ Company and is the founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute—an organization devoted to changing the world through the cultivation and development of Extreme Leaders in business, non-profits, and education. Farber is an executive coach, speaker and a best- selling author. His third book, Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership, debuted as a USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller. His second book, The Radical Edge was hailed as “a playbook for harnessing the power of the human spirit.” And his first book, The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, is already considered a classic in the leadership field, and was recently named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time. His newest edition, The Radical Leap Re-Energized: Doing What You Love in the Service of People Who Love What You Do, is available now. 14How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
  15. 15. About GoToMeetingOnline Meetings Made Easy.GoToMeeting is the extremely simple, extraordinarily powerful web conferencing service fromCitrix. It integrates HD video conferencing, screen sharing and audio conferencing, allowing youto collaborate effectively online in a face-to-face environment. Hold unlimited meetings for onelow flat fee and attend meetings from a Mac, PC and mobile devices. GoToMeeting will changethe way you work – and perhaps a whole lot more. To learn more, visit 15How To Lead Freelance or Unconventional Teams
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