Author Archives: Douglas Ferguson

About Douglas Ferguson

Douglas Ferguson is an entrepreneur and human-centered technologist. He is the founder and president of Voltage Control, an Austin-based change agency that helps enterprises spark, accelerate, and sustain innovation. He specializes in helping teams work better together through participatory decision making and design inspired facilitation techniques.

Effective Facilitation for All

How Leadership Fundamentals Benefit Everyone

Effective Facilitation for All

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Effective facilitation isn’t limited to the inner workings of staff meetings. True facilitation goes beyond simply setting an agenda: it’s a mindset, framework, and way of being.

Excellent facilitators know how to get the best out of their teams and design conversations that are innovative, exciting, and productive.

In this article, we explore how the fundamentals of facilitation affect an organization in the following topics:

  • Leading with Great Expectations
  • Effective Facilitation for Everyone
  • Facilitation with a Purpose

Leading with Great Expectations

At its core, great facilitation is an engaging conversation. In practicing effective facilitation, leaders make sure all communication is as clear and thoughtful as possible. Facilitators can begin this conversation by intentionally setting their expectations with all stakeholders in every conversation, meeting, and project.

Often, meetings end with attendees unaware of their colleagues’ and leaders’ expectations. By focusing on effective facilitation, leaders can identify and communicate their expectations as well as the expectations of everyone else in the room.

Consider the following facilitation fundamentals when identifying others’ expectations and needs ahead of a meeting:

  • Personal Preparation

Preparation is essential for any form of facilitation. Whether you’re leading a meeting or heading up a project, participants expect you to come prepared. Demonstrate proper facilitation techniques by preparing to be physically, emotionally, and mentally ready for your presentation.

  • Practice

Practice is the next step in proper facilitation. In practicing, you’ll be able to review your process and identify any areas needed for adjustment. Moreover, practicing will help you visualize your upcoming session, anticipate problems, and prepare alternative plans should something go wrong.

  • Process

Effortless facilitation follows a seamless process designed specifically for your audience. Facilitators have a variety of processes to choose from, including strategic planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and more.

  • Place

Your physical or virtual environment plays an important role in your facilitation ventures. It’s essential to be as intentional as possible in selecting the space for your next session. Consider the requirements for a space, such as the size of the room, what equipment is needed, and any other elements that may affect the flow of your meeting.

  • Purpose

The purpose may be the single most important component of effective facilitation. Your purpose will outline the end goal of a meeting and will communicate why the session is taking place.

  • Perspective

Perspective is as essential to effective facilitation as the purpose. Your perspective allows you to contextualize the goals, mission, vision, and purpose of your meeting.

  • Product

As effective facilitation hinges on meeting with a purpose, understanding what that purpose will produce is just as important. Consider what deliverables should be created by the end of a project, meeting, or conversation. Additionally, be sure to define the most important goals and actionable steps required to achieve them.

  • People

Facilitate with intention by identifying who should be in attendance. Learn more about each participant by researching the bias, potential barriers, and preconceived ideas that they may bring to each meeting. Likewise, be sure to highlight their strengths to further assess how they can be an asset in your conversation.

Effective Facilitation for Everyone

Integrating effective facilitation skills and techniques goes far beyond the walls of a meeting. A facilitative approach to leadership zeroes in on the positives of leading an active and engaged group. Facilitation techniques such as active listening and encouragement work to stimulate participative group conversation and collaboration.

Every member of an organization can benefit from the power of facilitative leadership. Leaders that demonstrate and embody proper facilitation skills can impart these practices to their employees.

Facilitation techniques benefit employees in the following ways:

1. Fostering Collaboration and Learning

Facilitation skills are essential in encouraging an environment of collaboration and learning. Encouraging team members to look at a situation from a different perspective, consider new solutions, and understand how to bring the best out of each other will result in the most productive experiences.

In creating a culture of learning, leaders should take the time to learn from their teams as well. Giving your employees a platform to offer their own insights is the best way to invite them into this collaborative process of co-creating learning.

2. Getting More From Meeting Attendees

As employees adopt the elements of effective facilitation, they’ll bring more of their skills, focus, and energy to each meeting. Equipped with the skills to act as influencers amongst their peers, each employee will become an active participant in the meeting, encouraging each other to make the most out of their time together.

3. Improving Productivity

As team members work together on various projects, effective facilitation skills allow them to move forward in the most productive, cost-effective, and timely manner. When employees incorporate their finely-honed facilitation skills, they work together efficiently, converse productively, and solve problems effectively. Ultimately, facilitation fundamentals allow everyone from team members to management to make the most of their time at work.

4. Boosting Group Dynamics

Incorporating effective facilitation skills helps improve group dynamics as well. All team members benefit from improved communication strategies, both in and out of the structured setting of meetings. These strategies allow all participants to better express their thoughts, opinions, and concerns as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Teams that invest in developing their communication skills are likely to retain the best employees. Statistics show that organizations that practice strong communication skills experience 50% less attrition overall.

5. Encouraging Active Participation

While effective facilitation is often considered from a leadership perspective, it is also an excellent catalyst in driving employee participation. Oftentimes, team members don’t feel comfortable enough to share their true opinions in a meeting. Moreover, they tend to bring the bare minimum to the workplace if they don’t feel as though their participation, efforts, and insights are valued.

Organizations that champion effective facilitation as part of their company culture are actively shaping an environment that makes employees feel as though they are truly part of their team. Feeling this sense of psychological safety allows all stakeholders to feel comfortable enough to put their all into their work.

6. Encouraging Team Competency

Leaders that excel in facilitation techniques are able to engender a sense of self-efficacy in their team. Oftentimes, leaders fail to go beyond methods of coaching to help their team members understand and internalize pertinent information. Effective facilitation helps to bridge the gap of competency in an organization.

Leaders must encourage team members on the path toward true competency. This approach to facilitation is essential to incorporate a culture where facilitation skills are easily transferable.

Lauren Green, Executive Director of Dancing with Markers, shares that the path to competency starts with meeting employees where they are:

“First, you’re unconsciously incompetent. You’re unconscious. And then you become aware [of] your incompetence, and then you’re consciously competent. And then you start to grow your skills. So then you’re consciously competent. And then when you don’t have to think about it anymore, then you’re unconsciously competent.”

Facilitation with a Purpose

Just as the purpose is a powerful tool in leading a meeting, it’s also essential in building effective facilitation skills in others. Intentionally investing in facilitation training allows organizations the opportunity to teach, practice, and embody the structured techniques of effective facilitation.

The nature of effective facilitation is that nothing can take place without purpose. From managing meetings to running projects, leading with the fundamentals of facilitation helps every facet of an organization run smoothly.

Lead with purpose by focusing on the following effective facilitation practices:

  1. Listening first and speaking second
  2. Leading with effective communication
  3. Managing time and tracking deadlines
  4. Asking intentional questions
  5. Inviting others to engage
  6. Creating a focused and psychologically safe environment
  7. Providing unbiased objectivity
  8. Acting as a decider in group discussions

Effective facilitation benefits everyone, whether you’re leading a meeting or encouraging employees to take their leadership skills to the next level. At Voltage Control, we help leaders and teams harness the power of facilitation. Contact us to learn how to apply these fundamentals to your organization.

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The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Leading with learning in mind is a necessary skill to consistently innovate as a team. Continually learning and revisiting skill sets is crucial to combating the half-life of learning.

As leaders, it’s important to make time available to our employees to freshen up their skills and knowledge through programs and tools. It’s equally important to ask ourselves, “how am I helping to provide the right resources?”.

Below, we’ll discuss the following:

  • What is the half-life of learning?
  • How can we contribute as leaders?
  • Why should individual growth be the focus?

What is the half-life of learning?

Now, what is the half-life of learning? For one, it’s something that is not talked about frequently enough. It affects all of us, no matter what we specialize in and touch day-to-day. It lives within marketing campaigns, our bodies, the living things around us, our skill sets, and more.

Put succinctly, it’s the halfway point of one’s strength becoming ineffective. Regarding learning or knowledge, the half-life is the halfway point for a current skill set or facts to no longer be true or effective. 

Ernest Rutherford discovered the concept of a half-life within the context of science. He deduced that it takes a certain period of time for an element to decay halfway.

For example, we can ask, “what’s the half-life of caffeine in a group of 100 people?“ Caffeine’s half-life is about five fours. By the fifth hour, the caffeine’s effects have fully diminished within half (50/100) of the people. Within the half-life period of the next five hours, the effects expire on half of the remaining 50 people (25/100), and so on. Like any other element, its effects vary per person, but the half-life serves as a comprehensible range for its lifespan.

We can also practically apply this to work. Within marketing, how long can a campaign represent relevant and effective information? Within learning, how long are someone’s learned skills still relevant?

Say that you’ve been operating with skills you learned years ago. Since then, your competitive advantage with those learned skills has diminished. The World Economic Forum claims that “the half-life of a job skill is about five years (meaning that every five years, that skill is about half as valuable as it was before).”

How can we contribute as leaders?

Suppose you consciously support your employees in real learning, educating themselves, participating in important programs within their specialty, etc… In that case, they remain relevant in their field and are significantly more valuable in their role. It’s a no-brainer when spelled out. As leaders, we need to make this a priority and hold ourselves and others accountable for staying ahead rather than playing catch-up.

We lose information without practice and reinforcement. Putting this concept into practice is critical to working against the half-life of learning.

How are we approaching accountability in this realm? These organizations offer structuring opportunities for learning and upkeep accountability. At Voltage Control, we have programs designed to keep organizations on track and sustain change.

Maintaining a competitive advantage requires this continual learning. An environment for innovation can only be cultivated by staying ahead of the curve with knowledge and skills.

What are the best resources for knowledge? Knowledge can be taught with content. Find the relevant educational content, and commit to time with it regularly. Are there education programs that employees can attend? Who in the space is in the business of educating others? We should be absorbing information that’s new to us.

It’s also key to observe trends within certain fields. What is changing within their expertise in the next ten years, and is knowledge or experience required?

What are the best resources for skills? They’ve learned through experience with others. The more we can encourage collaboration amongst individuals, the better our team. We develop skills by learning from those with more or different experiences, so it’s important to have confidence in your team’s structure and provide room for growth within the company, as well as to educate individuals about the half-life of learning so that they’re invested in their growth.

Setting aside time specifically for continuing education in both knowledge and skills is vital.

Where are we headed?

As innovators, not only do we need to be ready to address change. We need to expect it and get well ahead of it.

Within the workplace, demand does not match supply long-term. In 2020, the World Economic Forum claimed, “This lack of attention to upscaling will lead to an urgent disparity between workers and jobs. In the future, nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills, yet today 44% of Europeans age 16 to 43 lack even basic digital abilities. In Europe, the impending skills gap will lead to 1.67 million unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals by 2025.”

The world around us is constantly evolving.

The half-life of learning is something to be embraced. It’s an opportunity to recognize that everyone’s skills fade and that innovation will always play a role in our lives. It’s a matter of whether we choose to continue learning or accept our past experience as the extent of it. Learning and management play equal roles in the workplace. To impact our work, leaders need to allow employees the time and resources to develop and learn information relevant to business goals.

Why should individual growth be the focus?

Keeping this half-life of learning in mind is crucial from a hiring perspective. Degrees from decades ago have little to nothing to do with the knowledge that’s relevant now. Thinking long-term, it’s also important to consider how roles need to evolve with time. Automation is likely to greatly impact needed skill sets in the current decade. For example, McKinsey claims, “6 of 10 current occupations have more than 30% of technically automatable activities.” They claim that while job opportunities will still exist, a significant portion of the population will need to learn new skill sets to remain relevant.

People need to feel that there’s room for groove within their rules and that their responsibilities can develop as they do. How are we allowing employees to explore their interests and strengths? Are we using them to our advantage within the organization? Are we allowing them the flexibility to understand their strengths and value?

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Importance and Ethos of Empathy in Business

Importance and Ethos of Empathy in Business

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Why is empathy important in business? The reality is that though empathy focuses on identifying others’ emotions and connecting with your team in the workplace, true empathy has powerful results for every facet of an organization.

Organizational Ethos: Why is Empathy Important in Business?

Why is empathy important in business? The reality is that though empathy focuses on identifying others’ emotions and connecting with your team in the workplace, true empathy has powerful results for every facet of an organization.

Empathy makes it possible to center each other’s needs, desires, and emotions at the heart of what you do. From navigating your intuition to working to identify and meet the needs of clients, workplace empathy is essential to effective leadership and future success.

Below, we explore why is empathy important in business as we discuss:

  • Empathy in the Workplace
  • Empathy as Empowerment
  • The Ethos of Empathy
  • Why Empathy is Important for Business
  • Applications of Organizational Empathy

Empathy in the Workplace

Allowing empathy in the workplace encourages leading from the heart. By centering emotional intelligence in your organization, you’ll prioritize a people-first approach to leadership.

Empathy allows us to recognize others’ emotions and to understand their point of view in a situation. When employed in the workplace, empathy offers insight into how to understand and respond to others’ needs. While empathy can be confused with sympathy, the two aren’t the same. Empathy focuses on identifying and sharing the emotions and experiences of others.

By practicing emotional intelligence, organizations can use empathy to better navigate and support their employee’s well-being, while driving innovation and collaboration. As life constantly ebbs and flows, employees need empathetic leaders that understand the nuances of navigating life’s changes. This allows team members to craft the best work-life balance that lets them do their best work while maintaining a positive home life.

Empathy as Empowerment

Why is empathy important for business? The simple answer is that empathy empowers. As leaders and fellow team members extend empathy to each other, they are allowing one another to feel a sense of validation and respect. Considered to be an organizational superpower, empathy can positively impact employees’ engagement, motivation, and well-being.

The true power of empathy lies in your ability to envision yourself in a team member’s position, or a position of leadership. Once empathy becomes part of the organizational culture, it empowers employees to center their fellow members and work collaboratively.

From a leadership perspective, empathy invites employees into the decision-making process. This communicates that leaders value and trust the opinions and positions of their team members. As such, more employees feel a sense of validation and are driven to engage with their work and their teams’.

The Ethos of Empathy

Workplace empathy is part of a larger conversation about organizational ethics. The ethics of an organization refer to how the leadership and team members respond to their external environment. These ethics dictate the principles and guidelines that determine how the company and its employees conduct business in the workplace.

Leaders should work to translate empathy into their organizational ethos to ensure that every decision is guided by a commitment to uplifting and connecting with others. To make an impact with empathy and ingratiate it in your company culture, ensure that your organization has a clear code of ethics. By building empathy into your ethos, you’ll train your leaders and employees to constantly prioritize each other’s feelings and perspectives in the workplace.

Why Empathy is Important for Business

Empathy has a multifaceted impact on the workplace. From enhancing leaders’ capabilities and improving the way team members relate to one another to prioritizing clients’ needs and customer relations, empathy is undoubtedly an important part of any business.

Empathy benefits businesses in the following ways:

1. Empathy is your  leadership superpower.

  • Maintain Top Talent: Leaders that connect with their team in a genuine way are able to foster a sense of loyalty and retain the best people.
  • Boost Morale by Instilling Motivation: Empathetic leaders can successfully encourage their teams and motivate them to perform at their best.
  • Increase Sales and Productivity: Leaders with empathy can better understand customers’ needs and address their desires, pain points, and fears.

2. Empathy is essential for teams.

  • Develop a Community: Through empathy, team members can develop stronger bands and build trust in each other. This allows team members to become a true community both in and out of the workplace.
  • Increase innovation: Empathy is linked to innovation as it allows team members to practice curiosity, generosity, and equality towards their colleagues’ ideas. By entering another’s perspective, team members develop a sense of compassion that allows for creative thinking.
  • Create a safe environment for collaboration and learning: Teams that practice empathy are leading with their heart. This encourages a sense of psychological safety, allowing others to feel vulnerable and open to learning and collaborating.

3. Empathy is transformative for clients.

  • Forge connections with customers: Empathetic organizations put their clients first. This human-centered approach allows teams and leadership to build real bonds with their customers that can last a lifetime.
  • Prioritize clients’ wants and needs: Why is empathy important for business? Empathy makes it easy to identify and prioritize clients’ wants and needs. By walking a mile in their shoes, an organization will have a better understanding of customers’ expectations.

Applications of Organizational Empathy

Discovering why empathy is important for business is the first step in cultivating an empathic culture. The next challenge is learning to apply empathy in every facet of your organization.

Implement empathy in your workplace with the following practices:

1. Listen to Others

Listening to others is the first step in implementing empathy in the workplace. Listening goes beyond hearing what someone says; empathic listening requires one to actively listen and pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and similar nuances.

2. Use Empathy Maps 

Empathy maps allow organizations to take a human-centered approach to problem solving and ideation. Essentially, this helps one to get inside the user’s head. Organizations use empathy maps to determine what the user is thinking or feeling, and how they may experience the product.

3. Design User Personas

User personas identify the skills, goals, attitudes, background information, and behavioral patterns of your target audience. This allows your team to better explore how to relate to users and which solutions would benefit them the most.

4. Practice Empathy Immersion

Use an activity called empathy immersion to encourage your team to understand their perspective and opinion of others.

  • Change Your Perspective

Challenge your team to adopt another’s perspective.

  • Limit Yourself

A major part of having empathy for another person is understanding the challenges and struggles they face. By limiting yourself, you’ll be able to experience the same type of challenges as you empathize with their experience.

  • Do It Yourself

Oftentimes in the field, it makes the most sense to wait for management or a qualified leader. However, this shouldn’t limit one from problem-solving on their own. Under empathetic leadership, team members will feel a sense of self-motivation and confidence that allows them to take agency and create solutions of their own.

  • Similar Experience

Team members can empathize with each other and their clients by recreating an experience similar to what their colleagues or customers are going through.

  • Day-in-the-Life

A day-in-the-life activity allows team members to walk in another’s shoes and navigate the successes and pitfalls from another person’s perspective.

Want to adopt empathy in your organization? Connect with us at Voltage control to learn the ways you can implement empathy in your workplace. Our courses on Change Management and Master Facilitation will teach the art of leading with empathy as you learn how to shift your company culture to one that embraces an empathic ethos.

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Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Managing with empathy is a leader’s superpower. Empathy opens the door to increased innovation, collaboration, and engagement.

Experts assert that empathy is the single most important skill in today’s workplace and the numbers don’t lie: 76% of workers with empathetic leaders are reportedly more motivated and engaged than those who experience leadership with less empathy.

Leaders can harness the power of empathy to create a more collaborative and engaged culture at work. In this article, we explore empathetic leadership in the following topics:

  • What is Workplace Empathy?
  • Becoming an Empathetic Leader
  • The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy
  • The Connection Between Empathy and innovation

What is Workplace Empathy?

Managing with empathy requires a keen understanding of the nuances of workplace empathy and empathetic leadership. Empathy allows one to understand another person’s emotions, actions, and thoughts. Our emotional or social intelligence helps us practice empathy and understand the mindsets and emotions of others.

Empathy belongs in the workplace. While work-related responsibilities should be top of mind, your team members won’t be able to do their best work if they feel as though their emotions and feelings are invalidated or ignored. It’s crucial that team members feel as though their feelings and emotions are prioritized both in their professional and personal lives. With the power of empathy, team leaders and managers can shift company culture for the better and motivate their team to be the best version of themselves.

Empathetic leaders understand the three types of empathy:

1. Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy relates to connecting to another person’s mentality and understanding how certain situations influence their thoughts. Cognitive empathy is related to “theory of mind” that explores how someone can think like another and predict what their future behavior may be.

2. Somatic Empathy

Somatic empathy occurs when one experiences a physical response to another’s feelings or experience.

3. Affective Empathy

Affective empathy involves understanding another’s emotions and responding most appropriately.

Becoming an Empathetic Leader

Managing with empathy is possible for all leaders and team members willing to start within. To connect emotionally with others, you have to first prioritize your connection with yourself. By cultivating your emotional intelligence and understanding your own emotions and feelings, you’ll be better equipped to lead with empathy.

In today’s ever-changing climate, workers have to navigate the likes of diverse workforces, virtualized teams, and global economic challenges. Being able to adapt and sympathize with the perspective and experiences of others will help you improve your empathetic leadership.

Consider the following steps to amplify your emotional intelligence and grow your leadership skills:

1. Listen

Listening to your team is one of the fastest ways to start managing with empathy. With every conversation comes the opportunity to build a better relationship and affirm your team member’s emotions. In each conversation, be sure to pay attention, avoid distractions, and wait for the person to finish before you speak.

In addition to letting your team members fully share their opinions, the art of listening requires you to fully understand the emotions that are behind each conversation. This includes understanding nonverbal cues, identifying the tone of voice, and paying attention to body language. If you’re working remotely, managing with empathy can be particularly challenging. Take advantage of voice notes, video chats, SMS messaging, and sending photos and videos to ensure you’re virtually communicating as comprehensively as possible.

2. Get Personal

Though personal bonds in the workplace are often discouraged, building healthy professional relationships is an effective way to start managing with empathy. By forming personal connections with your team members, you’ll encourage a culture of open communication and alignment. As you both connect, you’ll find commonalities in your shared vision and values.

3. Adopt their Point of View

As an empathetic leader, it’s essential to gain emotional insight into what your team is feeling and thinking by adopting their point of view. Whether your company is remote or in-person, it isn’t always easy to understand the perspective or emotional state of your team. While some leaders shy away from discussing emotions and feelings at work, the truth is that learning more about each employee’s emotional state will help you understand how they approach their work and why they work the way they do.

4. Get Leadership Training

Managing with empathy doesn’t always come naturally. Take the opportunity to invest in leadership training to learn how to better incorporate your emotional intelligence and empathy into your management style. With the help of professional leaders, you’ll learn how to emotionally connect with your team and manage the personal and professional challenges that come your way. Consider courses in facilitation and change management as you learn the ins and outs of empathetic leadership.

The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy

Don’t put empathy on the backburner. While it takes time and intention to cultivate a company culture rooted in empathy, making the journey to create an emotionally intelligent environment is worth it.

Consider the following benefits of managing with empathy:

1. Better Relationships

Better relationships are a direct benefit of managing with empathy. Empathy helps team members emotionally connect as they identify personal interests and can freely communicate with each other. Use empathy to deepen relationships by asking questions about how others feel and providing careful and thoughtful responses.

2. Enhanced Teamwork

Empathy is a key ingredient in designing stronger teams. Managing with empathy encourages a desire for team members to help each other and work together. As you learn more about the challenges your team faces, you’ll naturally want to assist them in finding solutions. This type of cooperation encourages a culture of camaraderie where team members feel as though they are a critical part of each other’s success.

3. A Stronger Work-Life Balance

Empathy is a natural part of a stronger work-life balance. At times, challenges from one’s personal life can affect the way team members approach work obligations. Understanding their challenges will help you shape a better work-life balance for your team. Whether they need more time off or want more remote work, listening to and understanding their needs will help them create a healthier balance between their personal and professional lives.

4. Increased Innovation

A workforce of engaged and emotionally aligned employees allows for increased innovation. A workplace culture of empathy helps to develop soft skills such as curiosity, generosity, and equality, which encourages team members to design new creative and collaborative solutions.

The Link Between Empathy and Innovation

The link between innovation and empathy is undeniable. Empathetic leadership allows us to understand and relate to each other in a deeply profound and authentic way. Empathy is an incredible tool for innovation as it works to encourage companies and teams to center the needs and feelings of others.

By encouraging team members to adopt another’s point of view, leaders can utilize empathy as a problem-solving framework. Empathy places the experience and satisfaction of others at the heart of the creative and collaborative process. These empathetic techniques and behaviors are undoubtedly linked to the most effective designs, products, and creative solutions.

In the workplace, empathy naturally reinforces a culture of innovation as it encourages and validates the feelings and opinions of others. Regardless of the problems at hand, human-centered thinking encourages organizations to empathetically eliminate their biases, reservations, and judgment to arrive at the solution that benefits the end-user and their fellow team members the most.

If innovation is at the heart of your company, it’s time to start managing with empathy. Voltage Control offers custom programs built around connection, psychological safety, community, and play. Connect with us today to learn how to use empathetic leadership for the greatest good.

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How Networking Accelerates Growth

How Networking Accelerates Growth

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

As a leader, you’re likely aware that building a network takes time and work. Mentors and a network of peers are not easily established for jobs, professional growth, or business. The process of growing a network, and a community, is proportional to the thought you put towards it.

That said, not everyone takes the same steps to build a network. Leadership development programs are tools we highly recommend considering. They’re a step towards learning about yourself and expanding your understanding of how to work with people.

Now, how does a network contribute effectively to your role as a leader, and how can you unlock that network in a productive way?

The search for true leadership requires self-awareness, which networks play a key role in developing.

A true leader puts in the self-work before looking to others to change. They also view self-work as an ongoing experience of sustained learning rather than a short-term project.

Let’s dive deeper into networking, a concept that you’ll learn has positive connotations when framed correctly. This article addresses the following:

  • What is networking and why is it important?
  • How do we pursue true leadership?
  • How do we sustain learning as leaders?

What is networking?

Networking is intercommunication, exchanging ideas with those with shared interests or expertise. We view networking as a series of opportunities to learn and engage. Learning about yourself, others, and information. Most importantly to leadership development, it’s learning about yourself through others.

Networking doesn’t have to be insincere, corporate, or repulsive if you approach it with meaning and an intention to develop deeper relationships. Oftentimes, those relationships are a twofold source of wisdom and knowledge when you need it most.

Good networking involves a mutual understanding of the relationship and an environment conducive to it. The more work you put into a network, the more it resembles a community: a place you can go to for help or to help.

Why is networking important?

Networking is profound for connection and support. As you build yours, you’ll find that you can lean into your network for much more than professional development, and you begin to build a community.

It’s also a wonderful practice in self-awareness. By interacting with people outside of your usual environment, your creativity and self-image is challenged. It often feels uncomfortable for good reason. Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and observe the environment around you serves as practice for what you should often do as a leader.

As we do this, we acquire perspective, which encourages growth. A healthy network focused on growth boosts:

  • Confidence and awareness of strengths
  • Understanding of opportunities for personal and professional growth
  • Creativity through exposure to other pools of knowledge and ways of thinking

The community you draw from networking often becomes a resource for your team. That includes resources for:

  • Hiring new teammates and identifying strong leaders
  • Industry information and trends
  • Future positions or opportunities for involvement

Dr. Peter Gray, who spent years studying professional networks, also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a tight-knit community, or as he phrases it, “building a collaboration network”. In our Control the Room podcast episode with Dr. Grey, he suggests that consistent, quality relationships with 15-20 close ties prove wildly beneficial to a work environment. Reframing teamwork as a collaborative effort makes the workplace exciting, and perspective within your network enhances your desire for innovation.

“Your ability to see the world really changes as a function of your network.”

Dr. Peter Gray

Are there people who are positive thinkers within your network? Do they support your ideas? Do you feel excited to present your ideas to them? Dr. Gray calls these traits of good leaders “energizer traits”.

As you grow within an organization, it becomes more important to have a solid network from which to pull when needed. That’s especially the case as teams become more collaborative with time. We built this assessment tool to help analyze involvement and existing relationships.

Spend time pursuing a network. Your future self will thank you for the time you save them and opportunities you bring them.

How do we pursue true leadership?

Self-awareness assessments can fall down when used without follow-through. We can use them to help us understand whose strengths in the team will help us prevail when faced with a new problem, product, or shift.

Such assessments should be used or followed up with for inner work and inner change. The self-assessment serves as a true mirror when you’re focused on self-discovery and self-improvement. Use the reflective moments to continually practice being the improved version of yourself.

When you practice looking at your true self, you can begin to ask questions. It can be powerful to see if you’re being perceived the way you see yourself. 

Are you being manipulative? Are you a true leader? Is the story in your head about yourself authentic? What can be done to fine-tune your tendencies and align the person in the mirror with the person in your head.

The leader should always start within, looking to the symptoms that need to be addressed within themselves.

It is necessary to lean into the things that can create change, empathy, psychological safety, and culture. These are often viewed by society as soft, squishy, and even scary to approach.

As you address these within yourself, you’ll learn how to better work with those around you, and you’ll see the value in advancing those skills. Inter-relational dynamics have to be discussed and addressed. People don’t often want to lean into that stuff, but that’s ultimately where the real work happens.

Learning and working through how to work with people and welcome collaboration advances innovation. Spawrks, the co-host of Space Pencils, stated the following in a recent conversation on our podcast:

“I feel like that’s the thing, that if you can have the patience for assuming positive intent all the time as much as possible, you can really find out and learn a lot more, even when you might be completely able to see around the corner. By validating it with that type of respect and in your communication, you can yourself learn more than you even knew about what you’re thinking about.”


Start with yourself, move to department health, and finally the full organization.

How do we sustain learning as leaders?

Practical steps must be taken to sustain learning and development. Oftentimes, this takes the form of programs, which can replace networking if done right.

There are systems and programs that offer some of the same benefits of networking. What’s key is finding the right cohort or program to suit your needs.

Programs offer support to those who are looking to build a network. At the end of a program, this question often arises: “Now that I’m trying to use these learnings, what do I do with them?” It’s vital to be able to bring it back to the cohort for support.

The most powerful programs offer quality content and provide an environment for connection. We believe that the right programs, ours included, are designed to create extended relationships as a long-term resource. That’s invaluable. Maximize your time by recognizing opportunities for connection. That comes in the form of connecting the content and training into the work you do and building relationships with others on site.

Ultimately, learning is sustained through consistent attention to self-work and upkeep with your network. Connection within programs allows a moment where we truly connect to the work we do.

We’re capable of both contributing towards and gleaning from our networks in a productive manner. The aim of “networking” should be to do both, developing connections into communal, mutually beneficial relationships.

Interested in growing your network through programs? Check out our Leadership Development Programs, which offer leadership consulting through self-work and connection with a cohort. The aim is to provide a clearer view of your leadership style and connect people with interests in innovating as leaders.

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Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

Closing the Virtual and Cultural Gap

Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Learning to connect a culturally diverse virtual workforce is an essential part of managing cross cultural remote teams. Faced with the challenge of virtual team building, remote team managers also have to unite their virtual teams across any cultural differences, time zones, and other unique elements.

Recent studies show that 62% of virtual teams are comprised of workers from three or more cultures. Surprisingly, only 15% of team leaders have successfully led cross cultural remote teams. Such statistics show the dire need for improving cross cultural remote teams management.

In the following article, we’ll discuss managing cross cultural remote teams as we cover topics such as:

  • What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?
  • The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work
  • Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams
  • Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams
  • Improving Cross Cultural Leadership Skills

What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?

With the rise of remote work, it comes as no surprise that cross culture remote teams are the reality of today’s working world. Cross culture remote teams are teams made up of the global talent pool. Whether a company pulls freelancers from various parts of the world or hires remote team members within the same country, effectively working together requires a strategic approach to managing such a diverse group of workers.

Remote work experts suggest that culture is defined as the social expectations, customs, and achievements unique to a nation or region. One’s idea of culture frames the way they approach work, life events, and communication. While distributed teams composed of members from various cultures are an effective way to diversify the workforce, the difference in cultures and time zones can lead to collaborative and communication challenges.

The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work

Managing cross cultural remote teams come with unique benefits and challenges. Being able to fill your team with the world’s greatest minds is an incredibly powerful way to shore up your company’s talent pool. However, each team member will have their practices, preferences, and ideas of company culture, and as a result, may have trouble gelling with the rest of the team.

Moreover, team managers will experience the challenges of building a team in the virtual world. Without the face-to-face interaction of a shared workplace, cross-culture remote teams are more vulnerable to conflict and communication problems.

Remote team leaders face unique challenges such as:

1. Work Style

When managing cross cultural remote teams, be sure to address the individual work style of your team members. When working with team members from different cultures, it’s essential to acknowledge each person’s work style. This is especially true for team members that are of vastly different cultures. For example, certain work cultures prioritize individual opinions while others expect to follow a leader’s course of action.

2. Information Gaps

In the virtual world, information gaps are a huge threat when managing cross cultural remote teams. Any information gaps can negatively affect processes and data flows. All team members need access to the most appropriate resources to successfully collaborate.

3. Motivation Factors

Team leaders should do their best to analyze how each person’s culture may affect their motivations to better manage their team. Motivation factors for cross culture remote teams are vastly different than that of a traditional company. For example, while some team members may be motivated by a range of tangible benefits like bonuses, others focus on intangible benefits like encouragement and job satisfaction.

4. Influences

When managing cross cultural remote teams. Managers face the challenges of certain factions attempting to influence the rest of the group. If part of the team has the same cultural identity, they may use that to dominate a conversation or outcome, leading to conflict and contentious work environments.

Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams

Navigating virtual cross-cultural teams starts with first addressing virtual team building. While your team’s cultural background may play a role in the unique challenges you face, everything comes back to your ability to work together as a team. Level the playing field with an effective strategy to close the gaps and facilitate stronger personal relationships among team members.

By making an effort to strengthen connections between your team members, you’ll be able to bridge initial gaps created by remote work. Moreover, team members that share a common bond will be able to better navigate any cross-cultural challenges that may arise. Consider using intentionally designed games and activities like icebreakers to help strengthen connections between team members.

Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams

In the virtual world, company culture is constantly changing. To effectively run a diverse group of remote workers, team leaders must be open to learning the most appropriate skills to bring the best out of their team.

Lead your remote team to success by honing skills such as:

1. Adaptability

Cross cultural management hinges upon the leader’s ability to understand each team member’s work style and make the necessary adjustments. While you shouldn’t completely abandon your leadership style, you will need to integrate other behaviors, worldviews, commonalities, and perspectives to find more relatable ways to manage your team.

2. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a key skill for leaders of cross-culture teams. Conflicts can arise quickly in a virtual workspace, so it’s important for you to regularly monitor and manage your own biases as you exercise patience and grace in your communications. Make an effort to frequently challenge your perspective and take a step back in your interactions with team members. This will help you navigate complex cultural challenges as you take note of where your perspective and behavior may require adjustment.

3. Articulation

When working with a virtual team from different cultural backgrounds, clear communication is essential. By prioritizing articulation and careful and deliberate conversation, team leaders will be better able to ensure that every member of their team understands what they’re saying. Similarly, if other team members tend to speak too quickly, don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat themselves or speak at a slower pace.

4. Writing Proficiency

In virtual meetings, calls, or voice notes, words can easily get lost in translation. Team leaders should develop the habit of communicating in writing to make sure all their team members have access to a document they can refer to at a later point in time.

Improving Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills

Remote work opens a world of possibilities in the way of team leadership. As your team expands to include a more culturally-diverse group, your leadership skills should improve as well. At Voltage Control, we offer facilitation courses, remote collaboration resources, and team-building workshops to help you navigate the pitfalls of managing remote teams and connecting culturally diverse groups.

Work with our team of expert facilitators to learn more about managing cross cultural remote teams. With the help of workshops and resources, you’ll learn to expertly lead a virtual session, unite a distributed team, and appreciate and highlight the cultural differences that make your team a well-oiled virtual machine. Contact us to learn more about our custom programs for leadership development, master facilitation certification, and change management.

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Successful Asynchronous Collaboration

Asynchronous Collaboration

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

The future of work is changing and with it the landscape of how we work. We are seeing remote and hybrid teams more often, and the way remote teams flourish might be different than we initially thought. The old way of collaborating required an immediacy that poses new issues for remote and hybrid work. Recreating the office remotely is not going to get you the results you are looking for. Asynchronous collaboration and management can truly unleash your team’s potential.

“There’s a different methodology for managing remote teams. And that’s actually the essence of what I looked at when I wrote this book over the last year and a half, which was saying to myself, no one really knows how to manage these remote teams. They simply just thought that it was just slapping Zoom and Slack and Microsoft Teams on top of what everyone does. And everyone goes home and works from their laptops. It’s completely different.”

Liam Martin, author of Running Remote

Remote teams have gone from 4% of the population, pre-covid, to 45% of the population today. This is a massive shift and assuming that the traditional in-person work practices of the past can translate into the remote environments of the present, is detrimental to both team health and company growth. There is a time for togetherness and connectedness, and there is a time for deep, focused work. Async communication is not the full story, with async collaboration we can communicate ‘in real time’ or synchronously, with more intention. This balance of asynchronous and synchronous work will unlock the potential for leaders looking to scale their enterprise and unleash their teams.

In order to understand asynchronous let’s start by defining synchronous, the old way of doing things.

What Is Synchronous

Synchronous communication happens in real-time; it is when at least two people are exchanging information at the same moment with each other. This can be in person or virtual; if you are a remote worker these moments are usually scheduled over Zoom. Synchronous communication is vital for keeping work human. When the balance of async and sync is off it becomes easier to forget that there is a living, breathing, person at the other end of your communication. Including moments of live interaction like storytelling, sharing fun facts, or even just casual check-in conversation allows us to connect with grace and build empathy for one another.

Examples of synchronous tools:

  • In-person meetings
  • Zoom or other video conferencing
  • Phone call
  • Coffee Break or water cooler conversations

Synchronous work should be a time to explore new ideas, a time when progressive moves can be discussed, and a time to develop relationships with your team. When we focus on trust and transparency in our asynchronous work, we allow space in our synchronous work for future planning and we are given the opportunity to be reminded that we are human, that connection, play, and psychological safety are critical to our wellbeing. The foundation of a healthy remote organizational culture is built on a balance of both sync and async work.

What Is Asynchronous

Asynchronous communication is any type of communication that has a lag between when information has been sent and when that information is received and processed by the recipient. This type of communication is not typically in person, and while it may sound a little disconnected from a human-centered mentality, the truth is, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for generative ideas and productivity.

Examples of Asynchronous tools:

With the proper tools in place, your team’s communication can be fast, accurate, and informative.  Asynchronous tools are also an excellent option for remote and hybrid groups dispersed over time zones because they provide both flexibility and a permanent record of ideas, decisions, and discussions. When teams are encouraged to prepare asynchronously before a synchronous meeting, you will find more time for deep exploration of topics, ideas, and discovery when you meet.

Async Collaboration

Slack, emails, and even text are asynchronous communication tools, but slack and texting have a high sense of immediacy. There is an expectation of short response times, and this can be habitual, or cultural. These tools are also not well suited for dynamic, adaptive, or shifting conversations. Take, for example, the email thread from hell. Someone sends an email with 5 points, the first person responds to the fifth point, but not the others. The second person responds, and it is unclear if they are responding to the first responder or one of the other five points, and so on….

Synchronous work happens in the moment meaning it is faster, more dynamic, and has active, present participation. Asynchronous communication happens over time, meaning work is produced at the pace of the individual and allows for uninterrupted deep focus.

Collaboration is key. Digital whiteboard tools like MURAL can be used in both synchronous and asynchronous work, allowing the full team to generate ideas, brainstorm, and collaborate on creative solutions in and out of meetings.

Asynchronous collaboration allows leaders and teams can stay connected and flourish without falling into predictability and rote communication. With asynchronous communication comes automation: higher velocity work with lower failures and improved productivity certainly sounds like the winning ticket for a successful business, but too much automation can begin to feel robotic. Studies show that human connection is key to employee engagement and retention, so organic thought processes and collaboration are as critical as improved efficiency to unleashing your team.

“Over 60% of leaders said that communicating values is a significant challenge within organizational culture, and 28% said misalignment in values is the challenge. Respondents also identified significant challenges in the areas of DEI initiatives, distributed teams (55%), and lack of company-wide cohesion (55%).”

Work Now Report

The world of work as we know it is at a tipping point. As a natural result of changes long-in-the-making and then expedited during the pandemic, the state of work now and work in the future is forever different.

Asynchronous collaboration rather than just communication in a remote setting allows for a new level of cohesion. With collaboration through tools like MURAL, we are able to interact in real-time, generate solutions to problems with immediacy, and when we do enter a meeting we do so with intention and ability to get the work done.

Our Asynchronous Collaboration Tools

  • MURAL – This digital whiteboard allows for asynchronous collaboration that is in no way lacking creativity or innovation. Our team uses MURAL to collectively share ideas, designs, and prototypes. We also use MURAL to guide our weekly meetings. With MURAL, we can collaborate with the full team in real-time.
  • Loom – Our team utilizes this screen recording tool to ask questions, give detailed answers, and share new features. As you record your screen, you can get explain issues thoroughly and be able to recall the videos at any time. This means you have a database of Q and A that can be accessed at any point.
  • Figma – When designing new assets this tool is key to remote collaboration between design, marketing, and engineering departments. With real-time messaging, stunning design tools, and the ability to share working boards, design work can get done between departments with efficiency and speed.

Facilitated Asynchronous Collaboration

Asynchronous Collaboration incorporates facilitation at every encounter, and it requires a deep understanding of how remote employees optimally work.  . Remote-first companies understand remote operations, and there are important lessons that companies new to remote, or hybrid, can pull from organizations that have been running remote long before the pandemic.

There are elements of facilitation in all of our remote interactions, and often teams who are new to the remote landscape struggle to implement best practices across their teams. Liam Martin, co-founder of Time Doctor and co-organizer of Running Remote, takes on this challenge daily. Coming from a small community of people that know how to work remotely effectively has forced them to reevaluate asynchronous management. According to Liam we need to be able to manage teams without necessarily interacting face-to-face with them.

“Whenever you require immediacy of response from an individual inside of your organization, you believe that you’re speeding things up, but in reality, you’re simply speeding yourself up, but you’re slowing down the organization because you’re creating a culture in which people have to disconnect from their deep work.”

Liam Martin, author of Running Remote

The fact is that if you allow your team these moments of deep focus, the results are going to be a lot of really great work completed in a much shorter amount of time.

If you are seeking efficient structures to change the way your remote team works, the facilitators at Voltage Control understand the intricacies of remote work, design thinking, and much more to help your team discover their potential. Contact us today for a custom fit growth strategy that will help your business, your team, and yourself reach new levels of productivity.

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Managing Remote Teams with Empathy

A remote or hybrid work culture requires a new approach to managing remote teams: use empathy and grace to keep your team connected.

Managing Remote Teams with Empathy

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Managing remote teams goes beyond using the right tools and tech for communication: intangibles like grace and empathy are an essential part of successfully leading teams.

Remote work undoubtedly changes team dynamics and communication. Making the most of distance work requires us to humanize remote work and challenge the culture of isolation that remote companies typically face.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Remote Work Culture
  • Conflict in Remote Teams
  • Exercising Empathy Online
  • Building Psychologically Safe Remote Teams
  • Transforming Your Remote Team Management

Remote Work Culture

The nature of remote work undoubtedly changes company culture. As team members prepare to work remotely, they lose out on the real human connections gained from working in person. As a result, it can be challenging for coworkers and management to truly connect with each other.

By intentionally creating a remote work culture of connectedness, remote companies can navigate the hurdle of separation and bring team members together regardless of where they may be working.

Strong remote work culture counteracts the effects of isolation and unites team members around their shared purpose or common goal.

When managing remote teams, it’s important to:

  • Encourage feelings of camaraderie
  • Ensure regular effective communication
  • Shift your work culture to a balance of synchronous and asynchronous work

Remote Management

Conflict in Remote Teams

Making the transition to successful remote work culture isn’t easy, especially with regard to conflict resolution. This lack of face-to-face interaction makes miscommunication easier than ever before. While all team members may be focused on achieving a common goal, in the digital world it’s easier for words, and actions to get lost in translation, causing conflict between team members.

According to a study on remote work conflict, 81% of workers reportedly experience conflict and 39% of workers think about leaving their jobs as a result of a virtual conflict. Moreover, workplace conflicts are increasing in remote teams as employees are no longer able to verbally and visually communicate as they would in a physical workplace.

Exercising Empathy Online

With more workplace conflicts happening online, it’s up to companies to head off these communication challenges as proactively as possible. Experts suggest that empathy may be the cure-all to virtual drama in the remote working world.

When managing remote teams, maintaining team members’ well-being, morale, and engagement from afar requires intentionally exercising empathy.

Practice exercising empathy with your remote teams by:

1. Connecting with Your Team

Managing remote teams with empathy starts with establishing and maintaining a meaningful connection with your team.

Improve team connections with the following:

  • Ice breakers that add team-building and play to a meeting
  • Regular check-ins with team members
  • Video chats so team members can see facial expressions
  • Consistantant communication via platforms like Slack, Trello, or Asana

2. Actively Listening

Listening is an essential part of empathy, especially in remote teams. Listening allows remote teams to contextualize conversations and can help team members avoid unnecessary conflict.

Actively listen by asking intentional questions during check-ins to identify challenges team members might be facing. Experts recommend using prompts to help check-in.

3. Creating Opportunities to Ask for Help

It’s not always easy for employees to speak up and ask for help. Team leaders can demonstrate empathy by showing other members of the team that it’s okay to ask for assistance. By being vulnerable with your teams and asking for help yourself, you’ll open the door for others to feel as though it’s okay to ask for help as well.

4. Equipping Team Members

Ensuring that team members have everything they need to complete their work is another way to embody empathy. Be sure to ask thoughtful questions and offer materials and tools proactively to ensure your team is properly equipped to do their jobs.

Be sure to ask questions such as:

  • What traditional resources does my team not have access to when working remotely?
  • Do any team members have accessibility needs?
  • What tools do all team members need?

5. Encouraging Transparency

Transparency is key when managing remote teams. Without in-person conversation, information isn’t always as readily understood in the virtual realm, so it’s essential to regularly share important and accurate information.

  • Set explicit expectations for team members like KPIs, milestones, and timeframes
  • Share objectives clearly with the team
  • Provide feedback and guidance regularly to team members

6. Increasing Recognition

Recognition is essential in helping employees feel valued and validated. Employee recognition for remote teams can take on many forms from a shoutout via email or a monthly gift certificate. A small gesture of gratitude goes a long way online as it reminds your team members that you see the work they do and you value them as a critical part of the team.

Building Psychologically Safe Teams

Another element of successfully managing remote teams is creating a sense of psychological safety. When team members feel psychologically safe, they’re most confident to share their ideas, ask for help, and perform their best work. Creating this environment in the virtual realm allows employees to work without the fear of being punished, judged, or ignored.

Empathy and psychological safety go hand-in-hand. Team members are all responsible for creating this environment for each other.

Promote an environment of psychological safety by:

  • Encouraging participation
  • Practicing conversational turn-taking
  • Encourage leaders to take on challenges
  • Use breakout rooms on Mural or Miro
  • Address problems immediately
  • Increase mistake tolerance

Psychological Safety

Transforming Your Remote Team Management

With empathy in mind, it’s time to transform your remote team management.

Manage remote teams with these best practices:

1. Offer Multiple Contact Options

When managing a remote team, it’s essential to provide multiple forms of contact. Share your contact information for video chat, email, instant messaging, telephone calls, and other platforms. By diversifying your methods of communication, you’ll give your team every opportunity to stay in contact with you.

2. Increase Flexibility

Flexibility is a valuable element when managing remote teams. From offering flexible hours to allowing team members to set their own deadlines, allowing more flexibility will help build trust and boost morale with your remote teams.

3. Use Remote Work Advantageously

Focus on the advantages of remote work and hire a diverse and dynamic team. Remote work gives companies access to the global workforce, allowing them to hire the best in the business from any country in the world.

4. Find a Balance for Asynchronous and Synchronous work

When managing remote teams, there is untapped potential in understanding, and utilizing synchronous and asynchronous work times. With remote workers, we have discovered the benefits of deep focus that asynchronous work has to offer. This allows for flexibility across timezones, teams accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, and it allows for synchronous time to be more focused and productive. Managing remote teams takes a leadership team that understands the importance of synchronous and asynchronous work.

5. Accept Adjustment Periods

In learning how to best manage remote teams, don’t forget to be patient. Transitioning to a remote-only or hybrid workplace will take time. From troubleshooting technological issues during meetings to learning new habits to improve your virtual workplace, allowing team members to learn as they go is an important part of managing your remote team.

Working remotely comes with its own set of risks and rewards. Want to learn more about how to navigate the ins and outs of managing remote teams? Connect with us to discover how to implement empathy and grace as you lead your remote team to success.

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5 Ways to Encourage Employee Engagement

5 Ways to Encourage Employee Engagement

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

How do we become disengaged? What triggers disengagement in employees? When employees are engaged they embody the vision, values, and purpose of the company. The ultimate goal is to have a team of passionate contributors who are driven toward innovation and are positive and innovative problem solvers. As Leaders, we need to understand what causes our team to be disengaged if we want to shift them towards innovation.


When considering the signs of disengagement, often the first thing that comes to mind is laziness, apathy, and dissidence. These are merely symptoms, and as leaders, we need to dig deeper to discover what is happening at the core of our company and organizational culture that is causing these symptoms to surface.

To fully understand disengagement we first need to realize there are 3 employee classifications, according to Gallup; engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Less than 31% of U.S workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014 and while it is easy to see the signs of an employee who is not engaged, actively disengaged employees tend to blend in as they are choosing this path, and just want to blend in.

There are a few telltale signs to look out for:

  • No initiative in employee performance
  • Unhealthy Activities
  • Silence can indicate a problem in the workplace
  • Lack of learning and lack of motivation
  • Wasted weekends

When we begin to look at our company culture and organizational culture we can start defining what the cause of this dissidence is. Systemic cultural issues can be due to:

  • Lack of challenge in the workplace
  • Lack of recognition
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of trust
  • Siloed teamwork
  • Missing transparency

Employee Burnout

Disengaged employees sometimes need a spark. They are almost never bad employees, check out these 5 tips to reengage the disengaged.

1. How Might We

Addressing a lack of challenge in the workplace can seem like a difficult task, but one easy shift a leader can make lies in reframing. The first step in this type of reframing is identifying themes and insights for your company. This sheds light on problem areas for clients and employees alike. Reframing the insights to include ‘How might we’ creates an opportunity for would-be innovators to freely share ideas openly because it is framed as a possibility rather than a perfected final product. Reframing to these 3 words suggests that a solution is possible and it opens the door for a variety of creative ideation and problem-solving. When we pose a question to the team in the form of ‘How Might We’ we are encouraging them rather than inhibiting them. This combats disengagement by inviting each member of the team to voice their ideas in determining the solution. Every idea is valuable, and when you create a psychologically safe environment for all voices to be heard, your team will be fully unleashed.

2. Embrace Flexibility

The future of work is shifting, and with it many organizations are realizing that the traditional way we worked in the past, 9-5 in the office, may not necessarily be the best for unlocking teams’ full potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 50 million jobs are work-at-home capable. This means offering employees options for in-office, remote, or hybrid schedules is not only feasible, but it could increase positive productivity, and decrease the percentage of disengaged employees.

3. Employee Experience

Understanding the expectations and needs of your employees is vital to a company’s team health. When we work to recognize employees on a deeper level we can begin to change the culture to one that is thriving with ideas. Transparency and psychological safety will elevate your team and pave the way for healthy interactions that are sure to combat disengaged employees. A critical organization system we utilize is our Employee User Manual. This document is intended to open up conversations company-wide, to ensure every employee has the ability to share preferences, growth plans, and core values. By leading teams with an exercise such as this, you are building a foundation of psychological safety, transparency, and trust.

United Employees

4. Compassion and Empathy

As leaders, there has never been a better time to build meaningful relationships with employees and communities alike. Nurturing these relationships is key to keeping disengaged employees happy, productive, and satisfied with their work.

Happy Employees

“High-performing leaders of today are different. They’re empathetic, they think about people and society, and they really listen. There will always be financially-driven executives, but they’re getting pummeled and won’t be effective today,”

leading industry analyst, Josh Bersin.

Empathy, ethics, and values lining up between leaders and teams has the potential to increase retention, cultivate ideas, and deliver a healthy work environment.

5. Motivation and Talent

Disengaged employees may simply be lacking the recognition to develop their talents. It is reported that 69% of employers say they are struggling to find the talent that they need, but with a shift in organizational culture, that talent may be present and in need of a little nurturing to fully blossom. As Terry Lee outlines, there is great potential inside everyone. It’s up to great leaders to bring it out in four nurturing ways:

  • Training

Leaders should connect with their teams as they help them better understand their importance and the value they bring to the organization.

Employee Engagement

  • Connection

Leaders should connect with their teams as they help them better understand their importance and the value they bring to the organization. Every leader should understand their company’s mission and articulate that message to staff consistently and authentically.

  • Challenges

When team members complete meaningful tasks, they may receive an intrinsic reward. One way to amplify this reward is by talking to teams to determine what they think are the most important parts of their job. Then leaders can help them structure their day around tasks that give them a feeling of purpose.

  • Coaching

Team members need coaches to meet them where they’re at. They help staff identify what options they may have to reach goals and then set the appropriate challenges that lead them to success.

Shifting Work Culture to Engage the Disengaged

At Voltage Control we believe that every team member has potential that is waiting to be released. We believe that change is necessary to remain relevant in the world of work, and through interventions and training, we can help leaders and teams unlock and unleash that potential.

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How to Effectively Manage Remotely

How to Effectively Manage Remotely

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Consider five best practices for managing remotely.

Remote work was once associated with poor accountability, incohesive teamwork, and confusing communication practices. Fortunately, that’s now easily preventable. With the right management practices and tools, remote management should feel empowering, productive, and streamlined. Consider these five best practices for managing remotely.

Hybrid and remote work is something to embrace.

Managing remote teams takes a focused and thoughtful approach. The role of a manager is to guide, support, and connect the team. Approach the responsibility with a proper strategy, and hybrid or remote work becomes an asset to both the employees and the employer.

As the benefits of remote work become apparent, it’s safe to say that remote and hybrid work are here to stay. There’s plenty of existing research for remote work. According to a Forbes study, “Teleworkers are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts, and have measured an output increase of at least 4.4%.” Below are a few more positive consequences of remote work.

  1. Employees have location independence, and employers have the option to recruit top talent worldwide.
  2. Employees can be more productive, in turn reflecting on the company’s performance.
  3. Employee engagement tends to rise.
  4. Both sides tend to save money, enhancing profitability for the company.

With an effective manager, confidence and trust become apparent on a team. Build best practices into place, and you can expect game-changing results.

Effectively Managing a Remote Team

How can you effectively manage a remote team?

It takes practice and the right mindset to master effective management. We recommend practicing the steps below, and considering our Workshop Design course to build lasting results.

1. Embrace technology and tools.

Technology is on your side. There are countless tools made specifically to improve, and manage remote work, especially remote management. Make the most of the tools you have, and use them consistently. Focus on empowering your team to value available resources. Here are a few tools that we recommend.

Make sure each person understands how to use the tools in place. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. If your team depends on a project management tool to share and develop work, everyone should know or be taught how to use it effectively. It’s your job to oversee processes and enable people to work efficiently.

Define clear communication practices. Everyone benefits from guidelines for communication, and technology is on your side. Clarify when and where to share certain messages. For example, urgent messages should be shared via Slack or another instant messaging tool, while they should use email for higher level communication about projects.

Technology should enable you, as a manager, to manage less. Redundant tasks are easily minimized with the right tools. If your team is confident in how to use them, you can focus on more important tasks.

2. Implement boundaries and state expectations.

Boundaries are especially important with hybrid and remote work. They’re a sign of respect for employees. Working from wherever should not equate to always available. People work from different time zones and schedules, so align on a work schedule and respect those hours. Constant notifications outside of work hours often have a negative impact on engagement and morale.

Stating expectations clearly defines how to respect the team. Outline expectations for work hours, available hours, assignments and deadlines, email turnaround time, meeting timeliness, and communication practices. If you’re following a hybrid model, be sure to clarify when and how often in-office work is expected.

Individual Remote Work

3. Check in on individuals.

Remember the value of face-to-face interaction and use tools to continue it. This is especially important to newly remote teams. As an employee, it’s affirming to know that leadership values your work and recognizes your productivity.

As an employee, it’s affirming to know that leadership values your work and recognizes your productivity.

One-on-one check-ins offer space for connection. Having a regular check-in on the calendar is motivating, especially when the work is acknowledged and rewarded. While it will take practice to know the right cadence, it’s important to start with something on the calendar. Try weekly check-ins to start. If you have the option, schedule those for while you’re both in the office.

Clean up before hanging up. Outline current projects and align priorities before the next check-in. Looking to improve the structure of your current meetings? Look to our expert facilitators for guidance through a meeting systems workshop. We’re here to help.

4. Check in on them, not just their work.

Understand that people are working from a variety of environments. Some may work in solitude, others in a coffee shop or at home with young children. It’s important to provide opportunities to connect.

Countless benefits can arise from open conversation and listening. Working remotely means working with differing experiences and viewpoints. It also means that acknowledging shared stress of work goes a long way. Your employees sense the emotions you convey. Focus on conveying calm and empathy when it’s appropriate. When people sense space for sharing their experiences, camaraderie is built and they feel invested in.

Provide opportunities for connection whenever possible, including in-person. Consider monthly happy hours outside of work.

Communicate Priorities and Manage Your Team

5. Communicate priorities and values to manage your team.

Proactive communication lends itself useful. Communicate values from the start. Aligning on values gives individuals a tool for navigating decisions and managers’ confidence in employees. Values serve as the first resort for help.

Keeping the team aligned on priorities is also essential. Focus on goals and outcomes rather than how people are accomplishing their work. It minimizes micromanaging and enables employees to settle into their own style of work. Different people work differently.

Make sure that you’re finding ways to lead the team, not just manage it. Constantly tracking progress is a waste of time on both ends. Communicate tasks that need to be accomplished, but don’t use that as an excuse to check in on their work more often than is necessary. Trust communication practices you put into place, and use your time for accomplishing work.

Explaining the “why” behind priorities and deadlines is also important. Employees have a greater sense of purpose when they understand the reason for a project.

How should I go about implementing these five strategies?

Practice. Practice in our workshops and with our library of tools. Practice with other leaders and with your team. We want you to see a lasting impact from your work, and we’ve seen it many times over with our toolkit.

This article originally appeared at

Voltage Control offers workshops and courses for a forward-looking workplace. Managing teams remotely effectively takes practice with an advanced toolkit. Just like you should exit a meeting with a plan for action, you’ll complete our Workshop Design course with experience and valuable feedback for how you specifically can effectively manage a remote team. Please reach out to us at to discuss what we offer.

Image credit: Pixabay

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