How to Provide Feedback and Accountability to Virtual Team Members

By Tara Powers

Virtual team members who succeed at their job tend to be self-directed and take more individual responsibility to meet their goals and deadlines. High-performing remote employees are usually supported by a leader who sets clear goals and expectations, gives the team the freedom to make choices about how to design and take ownership for how the work gets done, and trusts them to make it happen. When accountability is present on a team, people are willing to call out performance or behaviors that hurt or inhibit the team. When this level of trust and transparency exists, a lot less time and energy is wasted on wondering what people think. Furthermore, team members are more willing to accept feedback and own their mistakes, and a strong sense of team exists.

However, if your team has traditionally worked in an office environment, this mindset shift to self-directed work and a strong sense of ownership can be tricky for both the leader and the team. Team members may be waiting for the leader to tell them what to do, may give them approval to do it, or may be afraid to take any risks on their own. Team leaders may have traditionally imposed accountability by directly supervising the work, creating elaborate incentive plans, or always making the final decision.

So, the question of the day is how do virtual teams create accountability practices that are healthy and transparent and supported by everyone on the team? Even though holding one another accountable can be uncomfortable and challenging, doing so is critical for virtual team success. Try these tips for creating healthy accountability on virtual teams:

  • Recognize that accountability is everyone’s job. It’s not just the leader’s job.
  • Create clarity on roles and responsibilities. Teams that have a high level of clarity find it easier to hold each other accountable and point out behaviors or performance that are impacting the team in a negative way.
  • Measure success on results, not on time worked. Involve employees in setting realistic deadlines and schedule check-ins for progress updates.
  • Establish a strong level of commitment to goals and expectations. Help your virtual team members understand what everyone is doing and what is expected of each team member.
  • Provide direct feedback. Some people are uncomfortable providing feedback because they haven’t practiced it enough. Check out a simple process of giving feedback in the figure, which focuses on solutions for the future, rather than past behaviors that didn’t work. Practice this regularly with your team members to increase their confidence in giving feedback.
  • Encourage the team to notice, support, and positively reinforce when team members engage in peer-to-peer accountability in team meetings. Although pointing out when another team member makes a mistake may feel uncomfortable to hear, doing so establishes a habit of transparency and honesty that is ultimately necessary for virtual team success.
  • Use technology appropriately. Technology is an effective tool for visually mapping both team and individual progress and where things are getting stuck. Project management software can facilitate who sees who isn’t pulling their weight, meeting deadlines, and moving the project along. Shared calendars can help team members understand what other team members are doing — whether they’re out of office, traveling for work, and so on.
virtual-teams-feedback
How to give future focused feedback.

Using these tips to set up your virtual team to practice an accountability culture can help you build a virtual workforce that has high standards, exceeds goals, and has a strong bond. You can identify problems quickly, and poor performers will feel pressure to improve. In addition, team members will freely offer honest feedback to one another. The high level of respect team members have for each other will amaze you, and you can steer clear of politics, hidden agendas, and secretive conflicts that can easily take down a virtual team.