How do we get remote team members to take responsibility? It is a common enough question, but is there really a difference for getting this done for remote team members versus team members who are co-located with you. I don’t think it makes a difference. How you do this is the same whether the team is co-located or whether they are remote. The issue is usually having a good management process.
Tips for helping to get your team to take responsibility:
#1: Clearly define who is responsible for what tasks. It is great to have a meeting with the whole team, discuss all of the tasks, what needs to be done, etc. But don’t end the meeting without clearly stating who is doing what. That can be done by having team members volunteer to take on certain tasks which are within their skill set, or “volunteering” someone if necessary. Every project/every task needs an ultimate responsible person.
#2: Clearly define when a project/task is due. This due date may be set because of outside forces; a promise to a client, a government requirement deadline, or other. Or you may have the opportunity to give the responsible person time to look closer at what needs to be done and to estimate the time it will take to get the task done. If that is the case, set a deadline for when the estimate needs to be done.
#3: For longer tasks, periodically check in to see how it is going, rather than waiting until the final due date for the whole project. Many managers do not like to do this because they feel it is micro-managing, or if they ask, they ask a very “generic” question such as, “how is it going?” which often elicits a standard response of, “ok”. How the “checking in” is perceived and how effective it is, depends greatly on how the question is asked. Common ways people ask about tasks include, “did you finish xyz task like you said you would?” which gives the impression that you are already thinking they could not have finished the task. Or a manager may go to the other extreme and just ask generically, “how is it going?” which may elicit just an “ok”. Try instead, as the project is going on, asking about specific tasks, “How did that research on xyz tool go that you needed to do? Did you find out what you need to?”. Asking in this way can help you get more information and more of a feel for how things are going rather than putting someone on the defensive.
#4: Make sure there are consequences for missing deadlines. Don’t let missing deadlines become a habit. There may be valid reasons for a deadline to be moved; a requirement absolutely needs to change, chosen technical design won’t work, etc., but in these cases the deadline should be moved before the original deadline is reached. The responsible person should know that the deadline needs to be moved much earlier, not at the last minute.
As the manger of a remote team, you are responsible for making sure that your team is as productive as possible. It starts with you. Being clear with what needs to be done, by when, and by whom, and then holding team member responsible, goes a long way towards making your team very effective.