How to Coach Strong Performances in Remote Work Environments

Facing the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis is essential for leaders managing their remote workers from a social distance. This includes common challenges such as declines in job performance and lack of voluntary engagement[1] due to social isolation and home distractions. One best practice is to not wait until the team morale is low – address it now. Set the stage with expectations for team success, build meaningful connections, and reward strong performance.

Getting in front of these challenges requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Here are some tips for investing in your team, learning from mistakes, and managing team behaviours.

Invest in Your Team

When it comes to workplace distractions, it’s safe to say that focus at work is the exception — not the rule[2]. If you want to reinforce the behaviours you want to see, start by looking at performance rewards as more than monetary compensation. Widen your optics, think creatively, and, most importantly — know your team. Rewards come in many different forms, and while money does make the world go round, a sound investment in developing your team is the gift that keeps on giving[3]. Think of more creative ways to reward your team, and consider other rewards such as flexibility for paid time off.

This is the time to be a remote and visible team leader, share great work going on in the company, and recognize team members[4]. Brag about their great work at stand-up meetings and appreciate your team for their efforts. Offer incentives and rewards for the team to win together as a group. Create a team holiday and reward everyone for their meeting significant deadlines. Collaborate with your high-performing remote workers and ask them what they want. Have a brainstorm session for creative reward ideas outside of annual bonuses or salary bumps[5].

How to Learn From Mistakes

Open dialogue is critical to establishing a culture of accountability. To build and develop team trust, you have to let mistakes grow organically. As a leader, it is easier to take care of things yourself, but it makes more sense to resist the urge to jump in and save your team[6]. See naturally occurring consequences as a learning moment to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Fail early and let your team learn quickly from incoming train wreck situations — you are setting the stage for good teachable moments. Sometimes, the best time to step back and support your team is to let them miss the mark — so they can feel the disappointment.

Avoid common pitfalls and choose the right timing for teachable moments — a high-profile deliverable is not the right time for a learning experience. Avoid saving the day. Let your team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. Don’t sugarcoat the mistake, but embrace the experience and grow from it as a result.

Sometimes, train wrecks need to happen. By letting naturally occurring consequences run its course, you can teach and support your team to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Open the conversation during stand-up meetings to prevent the same mistake twice. Understanding how to prevent mistakes as a team makes for a great business story. Now, they can grow through the growing pains, develop their game plans for reading warning signals, and avoid future pitfalls. You can’t give them the answers — but you can celebrate the overall learning. Play the same game and not the blame game.

Managing Team Behaviours

Problematic behaviour or underperformance can create issues for your team in any work environment. The first step in any issue management is to acknowledge there is an issue — hopefully, identified by a fine-tuned early warning system. This is a teachable moment and a valuable opportunity for you as a leader. Approach the problem with transparency and schedule time to sit down for an open and two-way discussion.

See this through the lens of the employee and understand the source of the behaviour. There might be potential reasons for the challenges that could indicate bigger issues. Maybe team morale is low, and remote work is making them feel insecure about their skills. Approach your discussion with an outcome in mind and source the root of the problematic behaviour. See it as a learning moment and place the responsibility in the employee’s hands. Document the management and team action plan to encourage future prevention methods. By leaving it up to the employee to come up with ideas for success, you simultaneously address the issue and demonstrate trust. Place the responsibility on the employee and open up opportunities to create pride of ownership in behaviour. It is also a solution for increasing positive change for future issues.

Difficult behaviour is an energy drain. The best way to deal with it is to address it quickly — and get the results you and your team want. Bring up concerns and observations — but resist the urge to point fingers. Play the same game instead and make a long-term investment in your team — and your productivity.

Remote work comes with challenges and requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Create realistic expectations and hold your team accountable — but let the team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. See problematic behaviour or underperformance issues through the lens of the employee. Understand the source and identify indications of bigger issues. Use it as a learning moment to coach your team to improve and grow.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Thibodeaux, W. (2018). Distractions Are Costing Companies Millions. Here’s Why 66 Percent Of Workers Won’t Talk About It. Inc.

[3] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[4] Davies, N. (2020). Remote Team Morale Is About To Plummet, Here’s What Leaders Must Do. Forbes.

[5] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[6] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

Radical Transparency and its impact on our teams

Radical transparency in the business world is the theory that everyone who works at a particular company should be fully honest about all matters from the top leadership to entry-level new hires [i]. It effectively means that everyone in the organization knows almost everything about the company both internally and externally. 

Company transparency has been around for a long time and has shown to improve employee engagement, reaction times to problems, alignment to overall goals and better performing teams. The term “Radical Transparency” was popularized by billionaire hedge fund owner, Ray Dalio. He went a step further by empowering employees to bring ideas, mistakes, problems and other matters they might typically hide to the forefront for open discussion. The thought was that giving this freedom would remedy problems, make decisions and uncover new ideas much quicker and mitigate being blinded by confirmation bias (Only seeking evidence that agrees with your view). 

The concept has excelled as the business evolves and populations want more equalized distribution of resources. Numerous well-known brands champion radical transparency such as Patagonia, Got Junk, Fiix, Fit Bit, Narrative Science and Buffer. Many go so far as to publish employee salaries and discuss lay-offs in the public forum. As ethics, traceability and sustainability continue to shift into societies view so too will radical transparency [ii].

Introducing radical transparency to your team after the company has been founded is not a simple task. Provided the company fit with this model, it must be championed directly from the leadership team and permeate all the way through the company culture underpinned by high levels of trust. [iii]. Leadership exemplifying these attitudes is the only effective way to offer confidence to the workforce and inspire trust without fear of exposure, punishment or embarrassment. Displaying financials, discussing pain points, targets, weaknesses, competitors, and many more allows a company to promote employee inclusion and develop trusting attitudes. Full trust, clear expectation and free-flowing employee contribution are key performance indicators of successful radical transparency [iv].

At first glance, the concept may seem utopian and simple with the sense that every organization should adopt these practices. However, there are practical considerations to raise and accept. The degree to which the model relies on trust between all members of the organization is fundamental. Trust gives the foundation for psychological safety which is what any team member requires to contribute, admit mistakes and share ideas [vi]. Psychological safety is regarded as the confidence and safety from embarrassment, social risk or punishment for contributing to their views and issues. Unfortunately, the Edelman Survey reflected in the World Economic Forum suggests that as many as one in three employees do not trust their employer [vii]. In a cyclical sense, this survey also suggests that trust issues are rectified by further transparency [vii].

Introducing radical transparency also invites interpersonal challenges. Decisions taken by CEO’s and upper-tier management have implications for everyone involved. Enacting full transparency demands courage and ownership from middle management and employees who need to avoid being viewed as incompetent. Specifically, leadership figures as the key influencer must deliberately structure and communicate the goal of transparency to their team. Fostering psychological safety implores leaders themselves to exemplify this attitude by asking for help, admitting mistakes, and accepting that a ‘subordinate’ may contribute better ideas on occasion than them [viii]. Demonstrating courage and championing this requirement is inclusive of correcting discouraging behaviours and actively removing fear and uncertainty from the employee base [ix]. Leadership must also understand the complexity of sharing good and bad feedback and the different weights each needs to be delivered with. Additionally, knowing when your team needs to move on from a topic or decompress from a discussion is very important. 

The successful introduction of radical transparency can show impressive results. Having an employee base able to disagree with leadership and ask questions undeterred by fears has resulted in failures being avoided and quicker and more varied solutions [ix]. Further to this, full disclosure of company finances instils trust but also removes the nature of people to question their earnings against the peers. Finally, by understanding organization problems and threats and feeling involved in the direction taken, teams become more invested in the success and thus take ownership of outcomes [ix]. Each of these benefits improves productivity and efficiency while also boosting sales. Individuals and teams who feel fulfilled in their roles tend to champion their employer.

As exceptional and inviting as those benefits are, there can be drawbacks as not every stakeholder might want full transparency. Radical transparency makes significant demands of the leaders who can cause burn out from the weight of difficult conversations and the possibility of doubt in themselves occurring [x]. When there are negatives to share, valid concerns for staff internalizing feedback arise, which damages psychological safety [xi]. Employees tend to steer clear of people who give feedback that contradicts their own self-view [xii]. The Big Brother effect can also set in when everything is open for discussion as employees can feel monitored. Employees are shown to be less productive under surveillance [x]. Many of these issues can be mitigated by effective preparation of management staff, accepted norms of safety and careful hiring processes [x].

Similar to the impact on the company, it is worth considering the impact of radical transparency on the emotional safety of teams [vi]. The workload, successes and failures of each team are made visible, which exposes a team positively and negatively depending on how effectively established psychological safety has been [viii]. Transparency takes the decision to share any concerns or problems encountered away from a team. While exposure of concern to peers can be intimidating to teams, well-established norms of safety prevent this from being a negative experience [ix]. Rather than feeling alone in problem-solving or unable to make mistakes, teams can benefit from the support and collective input of others. Likewise, it empowers teams to assist their counterparts and a sense of mutual achievement in success. The sharing of success and the support through challenges allows teams the freedom to feel safe but also become more efficient at problem-solving [viii].

Discussion of the organization and team funnels perfectly into the individual impacts. Radical transparency is experienced differently throughout an organization and is entirely dependent on how it approached in the company. For management figures, delivering negative feedback may challenge their own safety and that of the individual team member, but the pressure and stress of decision making is shared among each contributor. Where it is correctly enacted, transparency fosters trust [vii], and when a climate of safety is enforced individuals are free to ask more questions, feel a sense of belonging and relieved of numerous concerns. A reduction of in-house dramatics, elimination of salary comparisons and welcoming platforms for ideas and input positively benefit each person and their emotional safety. When emotionally safeguarded, team members are seen to actively contribute and challenge in a supported and fulfilling manner [viii].

As an industry professional working with teams on company culture and values, there are many lessons to be derived on transparency practices. While there is no one size fits all remedy, and every organization is different, the most agile, adaptable and problem-solving companies have a higher degree of transparency. From experience, these companies tend to lose less time on the wrong projects or making mistakes and have a far more involved and motivated staff body. Giving space for the employees to contribute to solutions by providing an open environment improves their decision making drastically. Although challenging, correct transparency implementation results in much tighter knit teams, who are aligned in their focus on success. In fact, this opinion corroborates with Google’s Project Aristotle findings which showed that psychological safety underpinned by trust gained from transparency was the most significant factor in team performance [vi], [viii] and [xiii]]. The evidence from companies, economic reports and employee satisfaction statistics suggest that radical transparency, while challenging, can be exceptionally rewarding. 

Reference list:

[i] Heemsbergen, L. J. (2013) Radical Transparency in Journalism: Digital Evolutions from Historical Precedents. Global Media Journal (2013).

[ii] Bonanni, L. (2011). Sourcemap: Eco-Design, Sustainable Supply Chains, and Radical Transparency. The ACM Magazine (2011).

[iii]  Zak, P (2012). The See-Through Organization. The Drucker Institute (2012).

[iv] Veselinova, E., Gogova Samonikov, M. (2018). Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices (2018).

[v] Myers, J. (2016). Why don’t employees trust their bosses? World Economic Forum (2016).

[vi] Delizonna, L. (2017). High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It. Harvard Business Review (2017).

[vii] Edelman Trust Barometer 2016: Employee Engagement Executive Summary (2016)

[viii] Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Harvard Administrative Quarterly (1999).

[ix] Edmondson, A. (2002).Managing the risk of learning: Psychological safety in work teams. International Handbook of Organizational Teamwork (2002).

[x] Gino, F. (2017). Radical Transparency Can Reduce Bias — but  only if it’s done right. Harvard Business Review (2017).

[xi] Bernstein, E. (2014). The Transparency Trap. Harvard Business Review (2014).

[xiii] Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. The New York Times Magazine

[xii] Gino, F. (2016) Research: We Drop People Who Give Us Critical Feedback Harvard Business Review (2016).

The Value of Playbooks Based on Scenario-Based Learning

Providing a quality product or service requires the coordination and balance of hundreds of discrete, interrelated steps. An error or oversight at any point in the process can contribute to a domino effect that ultimately could have disastrous outcomes. To avoid this, organizations can benefit from scenario-based learning that provides team members’ with hand’s on experience to address issues that may arise relevant to their role and the tasks they must complete, as well as the opportunity to contribute to successful results. These scenarios can then be used to create workflows, or playbooks, for their teams to ensure consistency and positive outcomes.

Scenario-based learning, also called problem-based learning, provides an opportunity for teams to work though and identify solutions to authentic, complex or ill-structured problems.[i] This requires critical thinking and analytical, problem solving skills.[ii] Participating in the process empowers individuals and teams to consider multiple scenarios in a risk-free setting and allows them to see how project outcomes are affected by the decisions made at each stage in the process.[iii] By pre-emptively considering a wide range of scenarios before issues become real-life problems, teams can work together in an environment free from counterproductive emotions that create tension and muddy the process. Instead, they can focus on the decision-making process and how and when to escalate to achieve targeted outcomes.

The need for escalation occurs from not knowing who owns a problem. Operational scenarios alleviate this problem by working through various alternatives to identify the best and most effective route, which becomes institutionalized in the playbook. This also helps overcome poor managerial decisions by those who are more likely to pass off decision making rather than empower their team to solve their own problems.[iv] For these managers, escalation is the norm rather than the exception, when the reverse is the optimal goal.

A scenario-based playbook encourages problem solving and provides the necessary training and support to increase accountability. This increases the reliability of decision making[v] and helps alleviate the uncertainty that comes with change because team members know what is expected of them and can react immediately.[vi] Each “play” represents a way of doing something that moves the task forward in a direction that will improve outcomes.[vii] A playbook may refer to a simple but critical task or a complex project, or it might be updated to reflect a minor change or a complete overhaul. Having clear, written guidelines is critical, especially in a crisis situation, so that employees are all on the same page and work toward the same results. It makes them accountable in their roles, lets them know when issues should be escalated, and identifies the specific processes and systems that should be engaged in doing so.

This approach is more critical than ever in times of uncertainty because having defined positions, responsibilities, and processes becomes even more imperative to provide crucial consistency and accountability when it is most needed. Organizations and their leadership benefit because it allows them to plan ahead for future events, both intended and unintended. Their informed decisions can better direct allocation of staffing, budgets, and other critical resources in advance of imminent challenges, [viii]ensuring responsiveness and reliability in how actions ultimately will be undertaken.[ix] While playbooks provide the important guidelines for task completion, they also recognize the value of human involvement in decision making and how that maximizes the effectiveness of human-machine interface. This will continue to be an area of growth and development as machine learning advances and becomes more indoctrinated in the workplace.

So, if you’re not already doing it, find time to incorporate scenario-based learning as part of employee development. The benefits far outweigh the costs and, in fact, are more likely to result in a long-term cost savings. Scenario-based playbooks are a proactive means of empowering employees to action by eliminating any confusion about who’s in charge, what to do, and how to get it done. Employees and teams know what is expected of them and are knowingly and willingly accountable for their part in the process, benefitting everyone across organizational levels.


[i] Rosenbaum, H., & Shermis, M. (2010). Making a case for scenario-based learning in IS and executive education. Paper presented at the 16th Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru.

[ii] Noroozi, AL, Khakzad, N. Khan, F., MacKinnon, S., & Abbassi, R. (2013). The role of human error in risk analysis: Application of pre- and post-maintenance procedures of process facilities. Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 119, 251-258.

[iii] Stewart, T. (nd). Scenario-based learning. Massey University, University of New Zealand.

[iv] Grenny, J. (2017). When to solve your team’s problems, and when to let them sort it out. Harvard Business Review.

[v] Accenture. (2016). Scenario-based planning: Exploring the best chance on success. Accenture Insights.

[vi] Accenture

[vii] Notter, J. (2018). Creating a playbook for improving employee engagement. Forbes.

[viii] Office of Personnel Management. (nd). Scenario-based workforce planning. Office of Personnel Management Human Capital Framework.

[ix] Accenture