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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Oct 9, 2020


Feedback is tricky at the best of times, but particularly challenging in virtual teams. Research demonstrates some ways to improve that situation.



Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore ways of improving feedback in virtual teams.

There are many challenges associated with leading and working in virtual teams. Not having everyone in the same place at the same time is tricky. Things we take for granted, like giving and receiving feedback, can fall away completely. 

We have covered feedback quite a bit on this podcast because it really matters to performance and development. We know that as we progress in an organisation, we receive less feedback. We also know that as our performance moves further away from expectations, we also receive less feedback. It seems at the moments when we really need to know how we’re doing, the feedback we need is missing.

Virtual teams provide further challenges when it comes to feedback. When we’re not working together face-to-face, we’re less likely to ‘see’ each other in action. There are likely fewer opportunities to provide feedback, and fewer things to provide feedback about. 

So what can we do about this?

Research by McLarnon and others specifically looked at Global Virtual Teams. Not only did these teams not have the opportunity to work together face-to-face, they had additional challenges of navigating multiple time zones and cultures. The research involved trials of different ways in which virtual team members could provide feedback to each other.

What they found worked best in virtual teams was structured, regular feedback. Setting up a structured way to request and distribute feedback made a big difference, as did building in opportunities for feedback on a weekly basis. This meant that feedback was given in a timely manner. It allowed people to modify their approach, and also helped the team to better coordinate their efforts.

Other research by Kingsley Westerman and colleagues found that verbal feedback works better than written. People value the effort a leader takes in making a phone or video call rather than just sending an email or text. In addition, the researchers found that leaders who provide verbal feedback are seen as more competent and trustworthy.

All of this goes to show that feedback in virtual teams is just as, if not more, important than in traditional face-to-face settings, but there are unique challenges to overcome.

Here are some thoughts you can take into your week if you are leading or working as part of a virtual team:

  1. Recognise that people still need feedback - independent of the way the team works, individuals still need to receive feedback to perform and develop.

  2. Identify opportunities for feedback - you may need to orchestrate opportunities to gather feedback. That might include sitting in on a video conference, or working through some written work with an individual directly.

  3. It helps to structure the feedback process - explore systems where individuals are prompted to provide feedback to their colleagues during the week, rather than waiting for longer-term milestones or formal reviews.

  4. Say it rather than write it - as we explored three episodes ago, just pick up the phone and provide the feedback verbally.

  5. Make it real time when you can - work on your ability to provide feedback in the moment using simple methods such as Situation, Behaviour and Impact, which we covered all the way back in episode 5 of this podcast.

  6. Incorporate team performance and individual contribution - whether the team is performing well or not-so-well, explore further to uncover the contribution of individuals.

A big shout out to our brilliant research assistant Lauren Staveley who tracked down the research for today’s episode, which you can find in the show notes. Also, if virtual teams are of interest, then you are going love our brand new Six Daily Practices of Remote Leadership course - complete with a workbook and two hours worth of research-based practical advice to lead teams more effectively while also looking after yourself. You can sign up for a free 30 day trial of our Leadership Today On-Demand service, which gives you enough time to complete the course, watch a few recorded webinars, and even check out some quick hits on topics like feedback, influencing and assertiveness. Just go to the website and follow the on-demand link.

Have a great week.



Kingsley Westerman, C., Reno, K. And Heuett, K. (2018) Delivering Feedback: Supervisors’ Source Credibility and Communication Competence. International Journal of Business Communication, Vol 55(4) 526-546.

McLarnon, M., O’Neill, T., Taras, V., Law, D., Donia, M. And Steel, P. (2019) Global Virtual Team Communication, Coordination, and Performance Across Three Peer Feedback Strategies. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. 2019, Vol. 51, No. 4, 207–218