Q I travel a lot for work and am struggling to maintain a cohesive relationship with the team that I lead. We have issues with prioritization and morale is suffering a bit. What do you suggest?
A Develop structures and rituals that will sustain the team even when you are not there in person.
The inner game
Reflections in this situation will center on what it means to you to be a leader. In your view, what are the key characteristics of an effective leader? This may include approaches to setting a vision and building an effective team culture. Also, consider how management skills fit with your ideal leader, including development of a solid team structure and alignment of skills and responsibilities.
Next, reflect on how well this ideal matches with the situation you currently face. Does an "on the road" leader need to have different characteristics, or at least employ them in a different way?
Finally, look at your own performance. If an ideal leader needs to have excellent communication skills, and this need is heightened with extensive travel, what grade do you give yourself?
If these considerations are challenging at an emotional level (it's hard to acknowledge shortcomings) settle in, take some deep breaths, and avoid any sense of self-blame. This is discovery, and the purpose is growth, so do all you can to provide yourself with a safe environment.
What would your team have to say about this?
If they haven't given you feedback, think about the world through their eyes and envision the challenges your absence poses.
The outer game
Now it's time to engage your team in these considerations. Start with some one-on-one conversations with team members who will be comfortable giving you candid feedback and ideas for solutions. Depending on your team size, have a group meeting (or several smaller meetings) to solicit additional ideas. A couple of cautions on this activity:
•Be sure you're listening openly. If you're making excuses or being defensive, people will clam up and you won't learn anything.
•Don't overpromise. Be sure folks know that you're looking for ideas, not promising to implement all suggestions.
Develop two strategies: one for maintaining engagement while on the road, and one for ensuring your absence doesn't create roadblocks for decisions.
To remain engaged, form a communication strategy that keeps you and the team feeling connected. This could include "news from the road" e-mails or team meetings with updates when you return. Also, invest in forming solid one-on-one relationships with team members when you're in the office.
To avoid being a road block, look at your approach to delegation. My hunch is that you hold onto too many decisions; in that case, your absence can grind business to a halt. What's the worst thing that could happen if you delegate? A mistake could get made -- but you can make mistakes, too. Discipline yourself to put someone else in charge, and mentor them. This is good business practice, and part of being a good leader.
The last word
You can't be everywhere at once, but you can build a team that is resilient in your absence.