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Common Mistakes New Virtual Team Leaders Make & How to Mitigate Them

Team leaders have a lot on their plate. Juggling their own workload while managing the projects and personalities on their team can be exhausting. No truer is the learning curve of the new leader. And no worse on a dispersed team, whether it be virtual, remote, hybrid or a flexible work arrangement. Whether you’re a seasoned leader who is used to traditional leadership practices, a new leader who excels in the virtual space, or it’s all new to you, as a new virtual team leader, you’re going to make mistakes. And that’s totally ok.

If you’re coaching an individual client, group or team consisting of new virtual, remote, flexible or hybrid leaders, chances are you'll want to focus on expanding their awareness around their learning curve and set realistic goals and timelines for success. Whether you’re a virtual team leader or a group or team coach working with a mix of virtual or hybrid leaders, its important to note the most common mistakes that new virtual team leaders often make and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Not enough one-on-one meetings:

Leaders: Developing your team relationships is critical. How can you build these meetings into your schedule and ensure they don’t get cancelled or bumped?

Coaches: What goals can you set with your client (i.e., team) to ensure that they regularly meet with their team members? And how will you keep them accountable to this? Do you have executive/sponsor buy-in? Are these goals measurable and built into their performance management system?

2. Not learning on their feet:

Leaders: You’re going to learn lessons daily. What moments of pause and reflection have you built in for yourself to process learning daily?

Coaches: How do you (as a team coach) model what pause and reflection should look like? And how will you have the team share what they’ve reflected upon since their last session with you? What tools can you use to facilitate this growth?

3. Not being comfortable working in the unknown or knowing and not knowing:

Leaders: There are always unknowns. How do you find comfort in the ambiguity of not knowing? What in this situation is within your control? And what isn’t?

Coaches: What coaching questions can you ask the client team to unpack the cause of the fear of the unknown? What individual and team goals can you set around this?

4. Not helping team members connect with the big picture:

Leaders: What is the big picture? How is their work directly connected to the big picture? What interesting methods can you use to reinforce these messages?

Coaches: How can you channel the client team’s passion for the big picture? How formed is the team? What engagement activities could be utilized to strengthen the team bond?

5. Not providing the necessary responsibility or authority:

Leaders: Stuff needs to get done. But you don’t want to hover or let things slip. What methods do you use to ensure that work gets done without micromanaging or being too casual? What regular follow-up touchpoints have been built into your project plan? What are the Ways of Working that have been agreed upon within the team? And what are the consequences for not abiding by these standards?

Note: For new virtual leaders who have been promoted from within, this can be a particularly common but tough challenge!

Coaches: What frustrations are the team feeling? Are there any interpersonal conflicts that are getting in the way of success?

6. Not checking in frequently enough:

Leaders: Because it’s busy and you forget. How many times a week do you check in with your team members from a distance? If you’re on a hybrid team, do you save those check-ins for a face to face? And what media do you use, (Voice, DMs, email, Zoom, etc.)

Coaches: How do you challenge your team to find interesting but non-intrusive ways to check in with their team members? Have they set a standard around the types of media and frequency of use to use in certain situations?

7. Not learning from seasoned leaders:

Leaders: Seeing someone else do it well is learning. Does your organization have a mentorship program? Do you have a trusted colleague you could collaborate with to learn from them?

Coaches: How do you get leaders in an individual, group or team coaching context reflect upon their learnings from experienced leaders and turn them into action? And how does the group or team share these learnings for others to benefit?

Source: Reconnecting Workspaces, Pages 177-178


Most importantly, as you cultivate relationships with your coaching clients and team members, how do you celebrate success? Whether it’s success for the virtual leader from an onboarding context? Or celebrations of the successes of the virtual team leader’s team members?

What was your biggest challenge as a new virtual leader? Tell us in the comments below!

Have you got a particular client that is struggling with their learning curve and need a second opinion? feel free to book a free 15 minute consultation with Jennifer Britton to discuss your particular challenge!


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