How to mentor your remote team

Reading time:  3 Minutes

Yes, you speak with your team over Zoom regularly, but are you also making time for catch-ups, which are less about operations and more to do with professional and personal development? Here, leadership expert Jo Owen explain why you should

With the impact of the pandemic still affecting businesses and employees around the world, mentoring (supporting your colleagues with their professional development) may have slipped from the ‘to-do’ lists of many team leaders. “But these days, your team needs you more than ever,” says Jo Owen, a multi-award winning leadership author, keynote speaker and social entrepreneur.

While mentoring was more straightforwardly done in the office, making the effort to do it remotely pays dividends. For the employee, it can provide a useful lifeline – combatting feelings of isolations and disconnectedness. For the team leader, it can imbue the remote working experience with a greater sense of purpose and also offers an opportunity to step up and learn new skills.

Below, Jo Owen invites leaders to go back to basics when it comes to communication and “take your chance” to become an effective and empowering remote mentor.

1. Listen, listen, listen

You have two ears and one mouth. use them in that proportion. When acting as a mentor, listening is your ‘secret sauce’ for success. It’s how you will find out if and when someone needs help. Even on routine work calls, find time for social chit chat. Don’t just ask “how are you” – a ritual question will only get a ritual answer. Ask focused but open questions: “what is your working day like?” “how are you coping with the workload?”, “what is the toughest/best thing about WFH for you?”.

2. Schedule personal check-ins

Once a week, do a personal catch up with each team member. Some of this will be a business catch up. But make it a learning session as well: look back at what has or has not worked and look forward to challenges which are coming up. In the office this happens informally all the time; remotely, you have to schedule the call and be more purposeful and deliberate about everything you do.

3. Help your team learn from success

Many leaders are lousy at learning from success because they assume it is natural. Success is not natural. It is very hard work. When you succeed, learn from it because that is how you create your unique leadership success formula which will work for you in your context. The easiest way to do this is to start your call with WWW: “what went well, and why?” The ‘why’ question is where you both discover what works. Do not start with WWW’s evil twin: What Went Wrong. That is the start of an Inquisition and inquisitions rarely end well.

4. Create opportunities to grow following setbacks

Don’t ask “how did you mess up?” That is depressing and leads to conflict. Ask the EBI question. “It would have been Even Better If….” This immediately puts the team member into positive problem-solving mode with you. If your team members adopt the WWW and EBI method, they will start to coach themselves to success: they use WWW and EBI in a couple of minutes between meetings so that they constantly learn.

5. Create a self-coaching team

After looking back at wins and setbacks, look forward to current and future challenges. Do not solve these problems yourself. Get your team to solve the problem: that way they learn, and they stop passing problems up to you.

It can be helpful to ask (a) perspective questions (“how does this look from the other person’s side?”), (b) options questions (“what options do you have to deal with this, and what are their benefits and risks?”), and (c ) next steps questions (“so, what will you do next and what might stop you?”)

Jo Owen is a leadership author, keynote speaker and social entrepreneur. He is a founder of eight charities, including the UK’s largest graduate recruiter Teach First. His books focus on leadership and management insights to help readers develop the leadership and management skills needed for a change business landscape. He is also the first person to win the Chartered Institute of Management Gold Award four times for four of his books.

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