IBM is Seeking the X-Factor. Does Team Synergy Have to Be F2F? 

IBM is Seeking the X-Factor. Does Team Synergy Have to Be F2F? 

Recently IBM pulled the plug on telecommuting. R.I.P., early adopter. In the 1990’s, IBM led the charge into telecommuting for financial reasons – they needed to shed jobs and real estate – fast. The command to the workforce? Go home to work or else!

And it worked.

I find it ironic that today in the most technically integrated and enabled business era, IBM is reacting to financial crisis and lost market share with the opposite cry – Go to a physical office to work or else!

Why is IBM leadership following the failed Marissa Meyer solution to engender engaged teams to innovate and reinvigorate a workforce?

Inc. Magazine reported CMO, Michelle Peluso’s answer – They wanted to energize its employees by bringing them together in a cool space. She stated in IBM’s staff video that announced this policy move that it was about “Bringing people together creates its own X Factor.” She intends to motivate people by building “inspiring locations and setting them free.”

To simplify – sales are down, so let’s shake up the people and require them to innovate.

I suspect it won’t work as well as they hope. This decision to co-locate employees means uprooting families or living apart a good part of the time for many. I suspect the work spaces will be awesome, and it will be cool to be there. But not enough to make up for disrupting their family lives. I also predict an employee exodus of at least a few key people who are highly employable, a knowledge and wisdom loss for the company. I’m not alone in my skepticism. The Register calls this “IBM’s Melissa Mayer’s moment.”
I wish IBM luck, but I wonder if instead of spending millions on “cool spaces” and uprooting their people, they could have invested in their managers’ capacity to engage teams virtually?

The manager is the #1 X factor influencing team motivation – whether working virtually or shoulder to shoulder. Yet many receive no formal leadership training on engaging their virtual teams.

Today’s managers must have better relational competencies because work gets done through people. It isn’t just IBM whose leaders aren’t doing so well. It’s global. In the UK, senior business leaders struggle with people management responsibilities, too. About half of their HR professionals say senior business leaders don’t get the best from their people, according to a 2016 HR Outlook survey. Technical prowess does not translate into effective people leadership, yet only 44% of managers are given formal training on managing people and even less are giving training on managing their people virtually. We’re working further apart while needing to collaborate. IBM understood their issue, but I believe they missed the mark on a solution.

Relationship Relational competency begins with self-awareness about how we impact others, more so in a virtual environment that is missing visual cues. Virtual presence is a shared responsibility on any virtual team, but bridging virtual distance begins and remains the responsibility of the team leader. Task-only communication feels perfunctory to both the manager and the team member; it doesn’t bring people together to create the X Factor IBM is seeking. We do NOT have to work in the same room to have synergy. Corporate leaders and team leaders need to know this!

Virtual management training is a fast track to stronger virtual leaders capable of developing X Factor teams. The National Workplace Flexibility Study   shows just how a little training can make a big difference for virtual managers.

The X Factor is more likely to happen when the manager is interested in the team members and the tasks being done. When the team leader cares and communicates well, interaction is more natural, honest and flowing. Individual team members are more likely to speak up when they find mistakes or opportunities, whether they’re in a cool office space or video-conferencing in from a remote location. Strong relational competency helps the virtual leader:

  1. Communicate face-to-face and virtually in a way that inspires the team, clarifies roles, responsibilities, and team processes.
  2. Build and maintain trusting relationships that lead to celebrated team results.
  3. Lead collaboratively for results rather than manage project plans and activity.

Take at least one action today to better connect to your virtual (or not) team and find their X Factor. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Assess yourself with one or two leadership self-assessments available free in The SMART Workplace’s Knowledge Center.
  2. The SMART Workplace has launched my introductory course, The Powerful Role of the Virtual Manager. It examines what we know about today’s (disengaged) workforce and key roles of the virtual team leader. You can take the course in under an hour.
  3. Buy my new book today at a discount for preorder or from Amazon on March 31st. Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace helps leaders create collaborative cultures that span time, distance and cultural boundaries. You’ll also find tangible tools and practices, a virtual leadership model, and a career success model for the virtual professional. @trinahoefling, #workingvirtually
  4. Attend World@Work’s Total Rewards Conference May 8 where Kathy and I will lead an afternoon session on virtual employee engagement. More at @worldatwork, @worldatwork_rs, @worldatwork_dc
  5. Attend ATD 2017 International Conference and Expo May 21st and 22nd. Sunday afternoon we lead a session on managing virtual conflict, and Monday evening I’ll be participating in an ATD Author Meet & Greet. More at @atd, @atdgtc