How to Lead Efficient, Vital and Engaged Virtual Teams

Just last week I traveled to Mexico, via the internet that is, invited by corporate wellness champion Gizehlle Garcia to give a virtual talk during the World Occupational Safety and Health Day 2020.

And I told the attendees..

If there’s something that the coronavirus has shown us, it is that what we thought of as impossible is actually possible. In a matter of days, companies all over the world have started working online.

Working virtually is not the future anymore, but the present.

Nevertheless, this way of collaborating doesn’t quite run smoothly yet. If you are at the beginning of the remote journey, you probably mistrust tech. And if you are already somewhere along the remote path, you could be disappointed that in spite of having the latest tech, your team is not working efficiently.

Many teams struggle with efficient and action-oriented remote work.

The single most recurring feedback that I receive from my clients is that what they thought of as another impossibility is actually possible: getting work done virtually and getting it done right.

The secret sauce?

You need more than tech tools to succeed with remote.

Great virtual work hinges on three pillars: digital tech, social tech, and personal tech. And my contribution today will be about how to use those 3 pillars to create teams that are productive, psychologically safe, and engaged.

And I am addressing you as if you are someone who has to lead sessions and meetings online.

Your title could be team manager, team lead, or project manager. But also solution architect, CTO, or even CEO. And you could be the founder of a startup or even an entrepreneur with a team.

In other words, if you are responsible for a distributed team and you have to reach goals, this article is for you.

Slide 2 – Sonsoles working with a team using systemic software

In this slide you see me working with a team using systemic software. Team members get the opportunity to place themselves and change positions in the virtual space as if at the office in order to work on strategic and business goals.

But before I continue, who am I?

The power of a virtual team is in the relational fabric among their people. I work on the quality of that wiring of the entire team, something that is often ignored even offline but that is equally needed when working virtually.

The higher the quality of that relational fabric, the more collaboratively intelligent and resilient your team will be. They will be creating the market by adapting and anticipating rather than being victimized by it. Who wouldn’t want that in this corona times?

Collaborative intelligence and resilience are qualities inherent to performing musicians with their high-level of cooperation.

And I can say a lot about that.

I arrived at my current work with teams after a career of 17 years as a performing pianist working with different ensembles. And I built my current consultancy by translating the collaboration tools of Dutch avant-garde musicians to collaboration tools for corporate teams.

An ensemble and a team are exactly the same.

I am a consultant, a professional certified team coach by the International Coach Federation (PCC ICF), a keynote speaker, and the author of this Medium Publication ‘Transforming Business and Teams’.

And now I work with CxOs and founders helping them create teams that are not only high performing but also vital and engaged, in the same manner as musicians are.

I work online and offline and across all continents because two of my passions are cultures and traveling.

Let me show you a short theater play, “A Conference Call in Real Life”.

This video is the staging in a physical space of that what often happens during a virtual session.

And then there is this other high-level way of collaborating virtually.

Watch Jimmy Fallon, Sting, and other well-known artists display a different style of collaboration during the Tonight Show.

See, when it comes to working virtually, and to keep it musical, the work that lies ahead of us is to orchestrate the transformation of organizations and their teams moving them from A (the first video) to B (the second one). Because working virtually is not yet the norm for many companies, and in any case, there is much room for improvement.

And everyone who has the task of improving anything, including working virtually, is a designer.

Slide 6 – Illustration by Margaret Hagan from the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School

What does a designer do?

As Margaret Hagan portrays in the above insert, a designer puts people at the center of everything they do, whether that is creating a new sofa or a new way of working. Because working virtually is not the opposite of human work!

To be a designer is above everything a mindset, a way of thinking that transcends disciplines.

If you lead teams, you are not only a designer but also a change agent. And change always starts with a vision (the Tonight Show!) and it implies hustle.

Lastly, you are also an imagination worker. You show others a reality that they did not deem possible. Your mission is to show your company that there is another way of doing things. Your hustle is at the service of that mission, of showing that new reality.

The change from A to B, by the way, doesn’t happen after just one virtual meeting. It needs time, just like all change processes.

Even though I am going to show you many tools, my true intent is to help you with that bigger mission of accelerating the transformation of your company.

Slide 7 – You need more than Digital Tech to succeed with virtual teams

So, how do we design a vital, engaged, and psychologically safe team as in Jimmy Fallon’s video?

In the past years, and even in the past weeks, we have seen new digital platforms rise like mushrooms.

Obviously they are useful and unmissable, and I am going to show them to you. But more is needed for successful virtual collaboration.

You need 3 types of tech, each one with subtypes:

Digital Tech with 7 subtypes

Social Tech with 2 subtypes

Personal Tech with 10 subtypes

Slide 8

Let’s start with digital tech.


My favorite platform is Zoom, which allows you to communicate in real-time not just because of its video function, but also with its whiteboard, annotate, raise hand, pointer, sharing screen, and breakout rooms.

I like that it is user friendly and meant for real collaboration. Team members have the autonomy to mute and unmute themselves as well as to a number of other functionalities, which makes it different from other platforms in which the team lead has control over all functionality, keeping old-fashioned offline structures in place.

Another favorite but simpler platform is Jitsi. I like that it is open source and that you don’t need to install any software, ever. If you don’t need the bells and whistles of Zoom, go for it, share a simple link et voilà, you’re good to go.

You can also consider Bluejeans or even Skype.


My favorite is Slack, which allows you to work with several teams at the same time all the while creating a community before, during, and after completion of a project. Its many integrations, channels, tagging and video chat, make it very attractive.

If you only need the chat function, WhatsApp is becoming very popular in some countries.


You need a place for all your pdfs and other files that you can share with all of your team members.

Consider Google Drive if you like collaborating using Google Docs or OneDrive if you prefer collaborating using Word.

Dropbox is also a good alternative.


Use something like Trello to follow up on resources, events, and tasks, so you can keep your team clear-headed about the job at hand.

Use Asana or BaseCamp for more functionality.


Collaborate, brainstorm, share prototypes and interact as if you are in the same room with Mural. Used to post-its for everything? Post-its everywhere with Mural. It comes with a huge number of pre-designed templates, think Kanban and many other boards.

Miro is a great alternative.


When working with teams, we have to do our best to involve all voices independently from where they are geographically. Because if one person is not in the virtual room, no one is in the virtual room!

Polleverywhere allows you to choose from many different styles of polls, and integrates beautifully with Powerpoint, making your presentations look wizard-like.


Use Worldtimebuddy.

As a designer, you select your own constellation of tools that will serve your objective. You can look endlessly for the right platform, but it doesn’t exist. Each company has different needs and the needs of your company will also change as you adapt to the changes in the market.

I will give you a recommendation though, simplicity wins. Choose the minimum amount of platforms that will help you reach your objective.

And before the actual work, organize a session to give everyone the chance to familiarize themselves with the different platforms and learn to switch back and forth between them. Remind participants also that cables are better than Bluetooth and Wifi, and that before starting any session they need to check three elements: audio, video, and internet connexion.

Slide 9

To make an analogy with an orchestra, digital tech is what makes everyone feel onboard, which is great. But we still aren’t working the relationships. Here’s where social tech comes in.

Social Tech helps you work with the entire team at the same time. If your team has 10 members, you are the conductor working with all 10 at the same time. The invitation is for you to look at your team not as the sum of its individuals but as a web of relationships and interactions.

Social Tech is everything in my Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) toolbox. These tools serve two purposes: creating relationship and normalizing conflict on the one hand and solving strategic and business problems on the other.

Some of these tools can be implemented by anyone. Others require intensive training.

But both types are crucial because these are the tools that’ll help you create psychological safety in your team. And a team that feels psychologically safe is a team that performs better, innovates and is vital and engaged, just like Jimmy Fallon’s band. Because as this event’s host Gizehlle Garcia says, happiness pays!

Communication, virtual or otherwise, is simply communication, which asks for a change of mental chip. Considering our current circumstances we have to make human digital collaboration the departing point.

Our job as facilitators and team leads is to design the conditions for vital virtual dialogues.

What are the easy tools that you can already implement?

1. A team alliance or group contract

2. A clear agenda with clear objectives and deliverables

3. Energizers because our energy needs to be managed whether working online or offline.

Slide 10

Both offline and online, great teamwork starts with a good team alliance.

  1. Team members design the emotional container for their work together.

As a facilitator you ask:

What group culture would you like to create?

How do you want to feel when working together?

How do you want to behave when conflicts arise?

2. As the facilitator, you dig further to translate words into concrete actions:

How would you know that you have that culture?

How would you know that you are feeling that way?

How would you know that you are behaving that way?

3. In this manner, you’ll not only be designing the personality of your team as an entity, but also the conditions for team members to hold each other accountable for achieving that desired culture.

For such an alliance you can use Mural or Polleverywhere.

Slide 11 – Clear Agenda by Lucid Meetings

Use Lucid Meetings or even Trello for agendas that truly move things forward.

What you don’t want:

Lack of clarity about the objective of the meeting

Lack of an agenda or even no agenda

No time limit on discussions

Lack of a clear process

Team members who have not done their homework

No one really facilitating with discussions derailing or moving in circles

Team members who dominate the discussion and others who don’t say a word

No closure on most topics and little action in between meetings

What you want:

Clear agenda that specifies what will be spoken about, the objective of the session and who has brought what point to the discussion

An estimate of the duration of each agenda point

Clear process describing the tools and techniques that will be used during the meeting

Clear roles of facilitator, chairperson, minute taker and timekeeper

A process that creates closure on all points

Follow-up on specific plans

Expected deliverables

Did I say Lucid Meetings?

Slide 12

My favorite energizer is using gallery mode and asking everyone to make a figure using their arms moving them to the left, right, upwards, or downwards to make that figure.

You can start with simple figures like triangles, a heart, square or letter and making them more and more complex from there onwards.

Make a screenshot and share it with the entire team with the functionality “share screen”.

There are thousands of energizers online, including Mural’s.

Slide 13

During all team processes, challenges will arise around alignment, conflict resolution, decision making, leadership, and hierarchy.

The screenshots in this slide show how I address those issues using systemic tools. Even though it is software, I have included them as social technology because the team being able to position themselves in space is only the visualization of the problem, but in order to actually solve it, knowledge about relationships and power dynamics is needed.

To give you an idea, it took me 2 years to get certified as an Organization and Relationship Systems Coach and an additional certification in Coaching for Power Intelligence to address those issues.

Besides having effective meetings, when working virtually we can solve the same sticky problems that arise offline

Slide 14 – Skills and competencies of the team leader

And lastly, a word about executive presence, which is linked to the skills and competencies of the facilitator. This is what I call personal tech.

  1. Voice: Articulate, optimize the tone of your voice, and use variety in your intonation. You need to command the virtual space in the same manner as in the office.
  2. Body Language: The gestures and posture that you use every day will help you in the virtual realm as well. Your audience, in this case your team, are the most important people in the room, even if we are talking about the virtual space.
  3. Clothing and perfume: If they help you do your work well, use them! Even if you are alone in the room.
  4. Personal contact: Use your camera to look at your team members in the eye. A trick that works for me is putting my own window with my image at the top of my screen where the camera is. In that way, the team feels that I am looking at them. This helps you create connexion. Besides, develop your personal magnetism to encourage the team to use their camera as well. Many organizations do not do this saying “this is how we have always done it”. Remember that you are a change agent and that your mission is to move businesses from A to B.
  5. Establish clear expectations beforehand: Say something along the lines of “I will speak for 15 minutes and then I will ask for your input”.
  6. Read the emotional field: If you use the camera, it will be easier, but even if you can only listen, you need to develop the skill to read what is happening in the group. Focus on developing more than one sense.
  7. Have a plan B, and C: Technology fails, you need alternative channels of communication. Keep in mind Murphy’s Law at all times. When it comes to technology, what can go wrong will most likely go wrong. Have always a plan B, C, and D.
  8. Ask everyone to work virtually even if there are team members who are in the same building. This will even out the working conditions for everyone. Be curious about everyone’s working environment as well. How do they differ? Make team members describe their location, time zone and the office or home that they are working from.
  9. Invite participation, you are a host! Develop a talent and enthusiasm for asking questions. What do you think about such and such? What is your point of view? Have we overlooked anything? I see you are playing with your phone, what does it mean? In this way everyone will participate, no one will stay silent.
  10. Set the stage: Especially now during corona, remind your team members of the importance of their work and the purpose it serves. Besides, talk about the current uncertainty. If you don’t, team members will think that they need to know how to act at all times and that if they don’t they will be punished or fired, as it used to happen in the Henry Ford Era. When you set the stage, you are defining the problem at hand that needs to be solved as a team, just like during the Tonight Show. The task was clear for Jimmy Fallon & Co, a performance! When the problem is clearly defined, it can be achieved. Besides, normalizing uncertainty will make it easier for everyone to share crazy ideas and speak about mistakes, which are inevitable. When you use mistakes to learn, your team will come out wiser, more innovative, happy, and engaged.

* * * *

Sonsoles Alonso

Misfit helping CxOs and Founders Build Highly Efficient Happy Teams in 6 Months or Less with the Right Hires. Also virtually.