Leading Faceless Teams: When It Works. Why It Doesn’t

Jo'Ann Alderson is the author of the new book, Connecting in the Faceless World. Here, Jo'Ann lays out some pointers for those overseeing a team that frequently uses faceless communication to interact with one another and with customers, such as a call center.

Whether you’re leading a special project, managing a team or coordinating a group effort for some other reason when you meet in the faceless world, you need to know when to expect smooth sailing and how to save a sinking ship.

The key difference between face-to-face and faceless communication is the "C" word: Commitment. Or, shall we say, the lack of it. Although many would argue that we aren’t exactly obligated to one another in the face-to-face world (one only needs to point to the divorce rate), we are even less duty-bound once we become faceless. Sure, we are willing to share ideas, collaborate on a project and offer our opinion, but that’s as far as our convivial team effort goes. Our commitment fades – and fades quickly – during implementation. Put another way, when the going gets tough, the tough disappear. Or they lie, lead you on, fail to follow through or drop the ball.

If that describes your team, you might want to grab the next lifeboat. On the other hand, what if you’re the Captain? With a little effort you can save your sinking ship and get your teammates back on deck.

  • First, find your sea legs: If you’ve been in a boat you know you need to adjust your gait to keep your balance. You need to adjust when you’re working with faceless teams too. Rather than your gait, adjust your communication skills and approach because using face-to-face communication techniques in the faceless world doesn’t cut it.
  • Use an ice-breaker: Workshop leaders rely on a good ice-breaker to help a room full of strangers become instant friends. The same applies in the faceless realm. Even if team members know one another, use an ice-breaker to help people "humanize" their faceless counterparts.
  • Establish boundaries: To be successful, faceless teams need to show mutual respect. That means setting boundaries before a project begins. Teamwork stops feeling amicable when you are feeling bombarded with messages from teammates 24/7.
  • Work together: Handing out assignments to individuals and assuming that they will complete their task by the next meeting is unrealistic in the faceless realm. To increase the probability of getting things done, build teams within a team to encourage people to connect and work together.
  • Log the journey: Keeping people informed goes a long way toward keeping them committed. Updates need to be strategic. If you send ad-hoc e-mails, you can expect half of the team to delete before reading. A quarter of the team will file without reading and a tenth of the team to leave the email unopened. only one-fifth will read thoroughly. The final group will decide what to do with the e-mail moments before next meeting.
  • Drop anchor: Every once in a while team members need to stop, look at the project they are working on, and celebrate success. When people are faceless (and isolated) they don’t "experience" the result of their efforts. Seeing the effect you are making on the team and the final product increases moral and motivation.