Managing a debate team of three teenagers is a challenge. However, when compared to managing three teens only via Skype while you are approximately 700 km away, it seems rather like a piece of cake. Today I would like to share some tips with coaches, leaders and bosses who currently find themselves far away from the team they are supposed to manage and lead. We will look at the ways to improve communication, efficiency and team spirit.
First and foremost, when you are managing a project only via Skype (or Google hangout), it is crucial to ensure that everybody stays “on the same page” and contributes to the issue discussed. There are a few ways to achieve this: Either you can monitor that everybody is viewing the document you want them to (e.g., Google documents allow you to see who else has the particular file open at the moment), or you always ask each person, one by one, to contribute with his or her opinion or research.
Even if long-distance coaching may be frustrating at times, do NOT give up!
Second, it is vital to make sure that nobody is left to “free-ride”. That is, give everybody a fair share of work and control that they continually devote their full attention to the tasks. One by one, go over the tasks, give your feedback and precise directions how to proceed. And, of course, be very clear on what exactly the task is, otherwise you may have have to redo the task yourself, because your instructions were messy.
Third, do not “overdo” it. Allow your debaters/workers to take regular breaks, eat or deal with unexpected situations that may arise. For example, if the parents of your trainee insist on “family lunch” exactly at 12 o´clock, do not press it. Be flexible, move the schedule and be ready to assign the task to a different person. Trust me, the last thing you might want are stressed people who fail to complete the tasks (or complete them badly or in a rush).
Fourth, praise them. If they finish something important, compliment their work. Even if you criticize them for not doing something 100% the way you wanted it, include some bright points about their work. This keeps them motivated and ready to do more.
And finally, highlight the goal you are aspiring to. Underline that everybody is trying hard to make it and that you all form a great team which can get far. Keep up the team spirit of dedication and proficiency – and be their role model. Unless you yourself show that the team sticks together, nobody will believe it and cooperation will fall apart.
Just like any “long-distance” relationship, virtual cooperation and work require a bit more effort than “normal” projects (relationships). However, as long as you know where you are going – and why – you stand a decent chance of making it. To the top.
Side-note: You will be able to read about the fruits of my Skype debate coaching in two weeks, after I and “my” debate team come back from the Finals of the International Public Policy Forum 🙂