Coaching for Stronger Virtual Teams

COVID-19 has been a gamechanger in how and where we work. That is no less true for sales and marketing professionals as it is for most other workers. A potential 56% of U.S. workers could work from home. About 39% of workers have indicated a willingness to take a pay cut if their employers will permit them to continue working from home full or part time after the pandemic is vanquished.

Working in virtual settings creates new challenges for sales and marketing managers. Those wishing to create coaching cultures with virtual workers may find that effort complicated. It’s one thing to work together face-to-face; it’s another thing to work together from home — or from other venues.

Virtual coaching focuses on helping teams interact more effectively. Virtual coaches understand that working together in virtual settings differs from working together in traditional settings. Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology and expert on verbal and nonverbal communication, found that only 7% of communication is carried out by spoken word, while 93% is done through nonverbal actions such as facial expression, tone of voice and body language. In virtual meetings, most body language is lost when so-called talking heads come together in meetings. Add to that the difficulties of communicating with the technology, which introduces issues working on a new technological platform. (Research indicates the most common phrase used on Zoom is the gentle scolding phrase, “You are on mute.”)

The Specialty of Virtual Coaching

Virtual coaching can be carried out by sales managers, workers, HR professionals and anyone else who has received proper training. Facilitating a group and staying on task and on the agenda is one thing; watching a group to offer advice on how to improve group dynamics is another. While a sales manager typically focuses on getting through the agenda, the virtual coach focuses on (among many other things):

  • Who talks
  • What people talk about
  • How people talk to each other
  • How often people participate
  • When people participate
  • What feelings and facts are communicated in the group

Virtual coaches focus attention on improving human interaction over electronic platforms such as video conference or audio conference. An important assumption of virtual coaches is that the channel of communication — that is, the virtual environment — affects human interactions differently than traditional residential interactions. How people work together to achieve results is simply different when carried out over electronic channels.

A virtual coach also helps create a virtual coaching culture.

A coaching culture is a work environment where coaching is valued and demonstrated regularly. A virtual coaching culture is a work environment where people who work from home are encouraged to feel more closely aligned to the corporate culture and will coach each other.

Much has been written on coaching cultures generally. Culture is important because it can affect the reputation of your organization as an employer of choice, the willingness of top talent to apply to your organization, the rates of absenteeism and turnover in your organization, and even engagement levels. When people feel more aligned to the organization in which they work, they feel greater pride in their employer and more engaged in what they do and who they serve. Given that the typical issues in a virtual workplace are a lack of a sense of belonging, engagement, and motivation, as well as limited opportunities to build a trust relationship among members, the importance of creating a virtual coaching culture becomes great.

There are two approaches to building a virtual coaching culture. One is to focus on issues in a virtual organization. People pinpoint issues that should be resolved or areas that could be improved, develop solutions together, and implement them to enhance a virtual coaching culture. Many useful tips can help to build a virtual coaching culture in sales and marketing organizations. How well is your organization building a virtual coaching culture and what areas could be improved? Here’s what you should focus on:

  • Talk about coaching to others.
  • Discuss the differences between working in face-to- face and virtual settings.
  • Take the time for small talk, which is often neglected in virtual settings.
  • Devote as much attention to how people feel about the meetings as you do about the work tasks to be accomplished.
  • Have managers set the example by showing what coaching looks like.
  • Reward workers who set a positive example by contacting others in virtual settings to make sure they are all right and have what they need to work.
  • Ask questions about how the group is working together — and try to facilitate ways to improve group dynamics.
  • Make sure that technology is not a barrier to human interaction but is taken advantage of as a tool to bring people closer.
  • Open a virtual meeting by asking how people are feeling about their relationships — and to say one thing to compliment one or more people in the group.
  • Close a virtual meeting by asking how the group can work together more effectively.

The other approach to establishing a virtual coaching culture is to intensify positivity. A positive approach focuses on:

  • Identifying what strengths a virtual sales and marketing organization has based on what it has done.
  • Imagining what a virtual sales and marketing organization can do based on its strengths identified.
  • Creating strategies for a virtual sales and marketing organization to enhance its coaching culture based on what it did and what it can do in the future.
  • Implementing the strategies to build a coaching culture of a virtual sales and marketing organization.

To make this positive approach to creating a virtual coaching culture more effective, trust, affection, communication, aspiration and accountability are the important elements that need to be shared by people. At the same time, these are also what virtual group coaching focuses on to enhance group process and dynamics. As mentioned earlier, due to the use of different communication channels, communication in virtual settings loses much of nonverbal communication that is critical in forming trust relationships and amicable feelings among members. This is why virtual group coaching emphasizes building trust and helping relationships in enhancing group dynamics. The positive approach is useful not only in establishing a virtual coaching culture but also in helping virtual group coaching be more effective and successful.

Authors

  • William J. Rothwell is a professor of workforce education and development on the University Park campus of Penn State University. You can reach him at WJRothwell@yahoo.com. He is the author of several books, including “Virtual Coaching to Improve Group Relationships” (Routledge) and “Creating In-House Sales Training and Development Programs: A Competency-Based Approach to Building Sales Ability” (Praeger).

  • Cho Hyun Park is an assistant professor of organizational learning and performance at Idaho State University. She co-wrote “Virtual Coaching to Improve Group Relationships” (Routledge). You can reach her at chohyunpark@isu.edu.

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