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Coaching Concepts – Creating Team Alignment and Managing Up (even if you’re remote)

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

I was on a recent coaching call where a mid-level leader of an independent business unit within a rapidly growing company was dealing with the following realities:

1. Her team was entirely remote.

2. She was entirely remote from her supervisor and company leadership.

3. Her team was acquired over two years prior but still felt little connection with the acquiring company.

She and her team were performing and performing well, but without much distinction from how they worked prior to the acquisition. The autonomy was good on some levels, but the challenge for this leader was that she was being asked questions about the larger organization, its vision and direction, and even what would happen when it exited. She didn’t have any of the answers. She felt as disconnected and uninformed as they did. There was a slow but growing sense of fear and uncertainty within her team and a developing anxiety within her as their leader.

So, what should she do about it? How should she present her concerns? Here are some things we came up with:

1. Start with you. We talked about her just having some open conversations with her manager and/or peers at similar levels or situations within the organization as a way of asking how others were managing this better than her. Instead of looking up at the organization and starting with “you need to fix this”, this approach takes ownership and starts with “how can I do better”. No one is going to shut you down, marginalize your concerns, or get defensive when you start with “how can I do my job better?”

2. Speak on behalf of your team. As you explore how you can do better, frame it with what you are hearing from your people. Share their stories. Share the questions they are asking you that you can’t answer. Give a sense of their fear and frustration. Paint that picture. Then, frame your needs as it relates to your ability to effectively lead them. If you don’t feel informed and connected, you can’t help them feel informed and connected. So again, you are asking to be better equipped to do your job well – which everyone should be pretty well in favor of.

3. Show you are thinking big picture. Provide your supervisor the strategic context for your concern. Talk about the health of the team and the related health of the company. Talk about company growth and the challenges of retaining and attracting talent. Talk about the cost of losing some of the specific people who are asking you the questions you can’t answer. Talk about how this problem only gets bigger the more the company grows if it’s not addressed.

4. Listen for how others see, understand, and prioritize the issue. You don’t have to jump straight to solutions. In this case, the first goal is to raise the issue and get a conversation started. So, in alignment with #1, stay focused on tactical next steps and where they can start with you, but involve others where necessary. Rapidly growing companies have innumerable competing priorities. Raise your issue and better understand where it fits in the mix. This will help align expectations for action or lack thereof.

Working with remote teams requires an entirely different level of intentionality when it comes to communication and culture. Problems like the one this leader was presenting don’t naturally get seen by company leadership and don’t organically surface in their day-to-day. Leaders in these situations must recognize this reality and find ways and forums for bringing these issues to light. They can’t just let them stay quiet. That’s clearly not in anyone’s best interest.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words or the process where none seem to exist. But, that doesn’t make conversations like these any less imperative. In order to effectively lead through others, you often have to manage up to get what you need.


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