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  • Stephen Fortune

Leading in a virtual world

We have been leading others in a virtual world for a while now and yet it doesn’t get any easier. It’s not as good as being face to face and for many, it is a very unsatisfying way of working together.  


That is what we hear from many of our clients – a fixed mindset. What if we were to tell you that we’ve worked with several high performing teams that have never met face to face!  

So, what changes can you make today to get the most out of leading your team in a virtual world? We asked our Senior Partner, Stephen Fortune, for his top 3 changes for both newly formed teams and well-established teams in need of a meeting-reboot, and here’s what he had to say...  


Change 1 - Virtual team meeting alliance 

If you are reading this article, you are likely a well-educated and successful person. Through your school, university and first company role, your success was mainly down to you. However, now that you lead teams, your success (or not) is very much down to others. Unfortunately, many leaders I coach have an in-built drive to want to do everything themselves. Their mindset is ‘my input here improves most outcomes’. What if we had a more helpful mindset of ‘I have a great team who are equally capable and will get the job done’. 

Try this instead: Ask the team ‘what do you need from each other to make these meetings successful?’ that way your team will be part of the solution; you will demonstrate you are all in this together and also you are genuinely interested in their opinions – who knows you might even learn something you didn’t know! Set-up breakout rooms to discuss the ‘virtual team alliance’ topic in pairs or small groups and come back together to share (everyone’s voice counts!). You will then have a ‘team alliance’ to come back to, to ask ‘how are we doing against this? I would recommend sharing this team meeting alliance periodically to get feedback and refine. 

Change 2 - Check-in


It’s time for your Monday morning team meeting. You dial in and get straight into the task (there is lots to cover). As you are talking your inner voice is chatting away to you ‘they are very quiet today ... they look distracted or bored ... are they doing other work or looking at social media?’. We start to make judgements about others ‘they don’t want to be here; they have an attitude problem’.   

Try this instead: Spend the first 5 minutes of the team meeting asking how everyone is? Ask ‘how are you feeling this morning?’ maybe ask them to put in chat ‘one word that describes your thoughts or feelings today. Alternatively ask them to give themselves a score between 1-10 and the reason for that score. Comment on the response without judgement.   

Several changes will likely happen:   

1) You now get to hear that everyone comes into meetings with lots of ‘baggage’ – i.e. their child is sick, and they have been up all night; a recent rude customer that has upset them; just feeling generally overwhelmed with their workload; or energised and raring to go! That’s ok – you now know more about them.  

2) You will find that once people have had the opportunity to articulate their feelings or thoughts, they are ready to put aside their issues for now and be really present.  

3) You will have built trust by talking about issues that really matter – don’t forget to also share your feelings and thoughts too! 


Change 3  - Come off mute 

The marketing campaign for the 1978 film ‘Alien’ led with ‘in space no one can hear you scream’ sometimes, that is what leading a virtual meeting feels like. We talk into space with nothing coming back except blank faces or cameras off. What do we normally do? We plough on regardless - we notice everything and say nothing! Particularly if we are very busy, we dive straight into the task, cover each topic and ask for thoughts or contributions and we get back … silence ... nothing. How did we get to the point that our virtual meetings are so staccato and unsatisfying?   

Try this instead: Ask everyone to come off mute and have cameras on. Say ‘its ok to hear noise in the background’ (unless there is an earth mover in your garden or a brass band next door, we are fine to hear a bit of background noise). Ask the team for contributions and encouragement. These can be in the form of virtual nods ‘uh ha’ ‘umm hum’ ‘yes’ ‘go on’. Make sure you hear from everyone in the virtual space early in the meeting. I like to hear from each team member in the first 10 minutes. Maybe agree that if a pet or child comes into the frame everyone must wave and say ‘hi’. Try using the chat function for comments and then (the important bit) comment on the comments – draw out the points made and hear/notice everyone in the virtual space. 


We can’t emphasise the importance of these top tips, especially number 1. If you get your team alliance right, then you can use this as a basis of all future changes, adjustments and feedback.  So, what one action are you going to put in place at your next virtual team meeting?  


Article written by Stephen Fortune – Senior Partner, Blue Gnu Consulting. March 2024. 


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