Tips for Building High-Performing Remote Teams

Teams of all shapes and sizes have found themselves working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. With tight time lines, low budgets and stress on employees to produce superior results, organizations are looking for ways to transform yesterday’s in-office teams into high-performance remote teams.

Alex Willis, chief executive officer of Leadership Surge, LLC and former football player for both the University of Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been building high-performing remote teams for 25 years. During the International Foundation webcast Building High-Performing Remote Teams, Willis explained that the same principles apply whether building a successful sports team to compete for a national championship or a business team to quickly address today’s challenges.

Tips for Building High-Performing Remote Teams

Ten Common Characteristics of Successful High-Performing Teams (HPTs)

  • Participative leadership
  • Effective decision making
  • Open and clear communication
  • Valued diversity
  • Mutual trust
  • System for managing conflict
  • Clear goals
  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • High level of collaboration
  • Positive atmosphere

According to Willis, most organizations rightly focus on process development within their teams but miss achieving their potential because too little time is spent focusing on the change management side of the equation. It’s important to develop a rapport with team members, take time to understand their concerns and priorities, seek the commitment of team influencers and provide support to team members’ changing roles.


Willis suggests that a high-performing remote team can be put together and operational in as few as 36 hours. A key determinant of the success of the HPT is the work done before the team is created.

Four Steps to Create a High-Performing Team Remotely

1. Analyze and Assess

Willis stresses the necessity to analyze and assess team members by understanding their driving forces, emotional intelligence and personal skills. It’s important to understand the cultures of the various segments of the team—identifying what they value and how they communicate. According to Willis, “Assessments cut down the learning curve dramatically.”

2. Provide a Clear Game Plan

When creating a game plan, Willis recommends a 12-week action plan, with no more than seven goals. It is important to define clear objectives, roles, assignments, rules and measures of success. When team members know their responsibilities and are provided the necessary support to remove potential barriers, members can run without interference and outperform expectations.

3. Overcommunicate

When operating remotely, there is no such thing as overcommunicating. There is a need for regular and effective meetings and agendas with time lines to help teams stay focused. Willis recommends brief check-ins on members’ emotional, physical and spiritual status at the beginning of some meetings.

4. Stress Test the Team for Quick Bonding

Lastly, consider creating high-stress simulations to create quick team bonding. Giving your team an ambitious goal with a short time line is an opportunity to see how they will operate and where they may need to be developed. Sometimes chaos, according to Willis, is what brings the team together.

And Remember…

Although teams need to be provided with a strong vision and specific ground rules, if the team is going to thrive, it must be agile. “The best option today may change going forward. We must understand that we may have to pivot,” explained Willis.

[Related Reading: 5 Tips to Keep Working-From-Home Employees Connected During the Coronavirus Pandemic]

Resources to Help Plan Sponsors Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic

Visit the International Foundation Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources page to find information for plan sponsors, including these upcoming free member webcasts:

Teri Dougherty, CEBS
Supervisor, Content Services

The latest from Word on Benefits:

Teri Dougherty, CEBS

Supervisor, Content Services at the International Foundation Favorite Foundation Service: Today’s Headlines. Teri loves getting to read all of the day’s benefits news as part of her job. Favorite Foundation Conference Experience: Meeting, talking with and taking care of our speakers at the Annual Conference. Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most:  Everything wellness. Personal insight: No worries of a distracted conversation with Teri—her idea of multitasking is combining a good talk and laugh mixed with physical activity. From a lunchtime walk to swimming across a lake, she’s always on the move with a friend nearby. 

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