Podcast 099: The virtual team

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This is podcast 99 and it’s about a productivity tool I call the virtual team. You assemble a virtual team with people in your life to help you be accountable. I came up with this idea for one of my clients who’s a consultant. He works for a company but doesn’t have an office there. His job involves working with people from different departments on different projects. So for the most part, he’s running the show.

Sometimes his projects aren’t moving along as fast as they could though. In a typical work setting, he’d be meeting regularly with colleagues and sending reports to his boss. There would be a structure and timeline for each project that was the responsibility of more than one person, and each person had a role to play.

When you’re independent or work for yourself, you don’t have that structure. A lot of my podcasts have been about ways you can motivate yourself and sustain that when you have only yourself to answer to. Because that’s me! I don’t have a boss, or I’m the boss and the employee. I can take initiative and get things done, most of the time. But I also benefit from my virtual team.

So, what’s a virtual team? It’s a collection of people you make yourself accountable to. It’s the department colleagues you would have at a regular job. It also exists in your personal life. Weight Watchers is a great example. Besides offering recipes and eating programs, they provide in-person meetings. The company says that meeting attenders lost nearly eight times more than those who tried to lose weight on their own. Why? The magic of accountability!

Here’s the plan for my client. We identified his contact people for the three projects that currently have the most traction. We sketched out rough timelines for each project. In podcast 79 I talked about working backwards in order to figure out a timeline. You start with the end result. It’s easier to see what had to happen right before that and right before that than it is to try to see the end point from the beginning.

Once we had the timeline we could see where my client might get hung up and start procrastinating. Those are the times to schedule a virtual team member call. He could use the call to get more information, or he could use it as a deadline to complete a piece of the project and report on it. Having the calls on his calendar gave more structure to the timeline.

The interesting thing is that your team members don’t have to know they’re on your team. In some cases that might be awkward, for example, if you pick a client to be on your team. It makes sense to check in with your client, but you don’t want to put the client in a position of receiving your report.

One way that works in my business is that I announce I will do something, like provide a new service, by a certain date. That gets me motivated to finish the thing off so I can present it when I promised I would. I feel that someone is expecting it and that is inspiring to me. It also encourages me to put tasks on the calendar and complete them because I’ve given myself a reason that they should happen now, not next month or next year or sometime in the future.

Another way it works is that I have two friends who are also solo business owners that I talk to every week. We don’t have a specific agenda for our calls, although that’s a great idea. Still, the calls give some shape to my week and I think about what I’ll tell them in advance. If I told Paula I’d start writing copy for my new class, I really want to get that done before we talk so I can tell her how it went and get some feedback.

Another key feature of the virtual team technique is that it helps create urgency. The client I’ve been writing about is prone to putting things off until the last minute and then he doesn’t have time to do as good a job as he’d like to with, say, a report he needs to deliver at a meeting. Regular calls with a virtual team member create small urgencies that prompt him to complete small pieces of the project over time, rather than cramming an hour before the meeting.

Urgency creates focus. The more you perceive urgency for a particular task, the more everything else drops out of the picture so it’s not distracting you anymore. It’s also exciting! Too much urgency can cause panic and shutdown, but just the right amount gets you in the groove so you can do your best work.

What you can do now: think about who you could recruit for your virtual team. Friends can work if they are in a similar situation to yours so they have insights and experiences in common with you. Family members can work. People in your field that you meet through networking, or a mentor. Then start assembling your team.