Team success is often dependent on cohesiveness and progress towards a goal. When teams meet in person, natural roles tend to emerge as teammates are able to relate to each other on an informal basis. However, virtual teams often depend more on a successful team lead to ensure success when there is not an in-person familiarity. Leading a virtual team has its difficulties, but is an important skill to learn in this increasingly digitized world. But with some virtual team leadership training, you can effectively lead your team to the desired outcome. Below are 4 tips that’ll help you lead your virtual team to success.

1. Decide what size and type of team you are interested in

Depending on the course, focusing a team around a specified interest can help by connecting with your teammates around a shared interest through the team name and/or description. When there is already a clear topic, goal, or area of interest already decided by the team lead before additional members request to join, we have seen that the team will have higher engagement.

Virtual teams function differently depending on the size. Smaller teams, for example with 3 or 4 members, are much less likely to require an active team lead as teammates are usually fairly equally active. As teams grow bigger, such as when they are 5 or more people, the team lead tends to play an increasingly important role in leading discussion and organization.

As the team lead – consider which type and size of team you prefer. What do you want to be a common area of interest for team members? Do you want a smaller, more intimate and engaged team, or a larger-sized team with more perspectives to enjoy?

2. Urge your teammates to state expectations and intentions

Once members start joining the team, introductions, both formal and informal are great starting points. For example, unusual questions and icebreakers are an excellent way to build informal trust within the team (i.e. “If you could have any wish granted, what would it be?”) Through building informal relationships with your teammates and understanding each other’s backgrounds, you and your team will be better equipped for collaboration

When in-person teams meet, such as at work, expectations have often been established (i.e. this group will meet one hour a week at this time). Online teams have fewer established expectations – they must first be discussed. In an online learning environment, learners may have different intentions and goals, which can be a challenge when teammates often presume other members of the team to have the same goals and dedication.

As the team lead – consider how you want to encourage your teammates to share their expectations and a bit about themselves. What do you want your teammates to share beyond their location? What are the key things the team members should know about expectations and commitment? As the team lead, you have the unique ability to pose the first couple of questions and then let other team members continue the conversation. If you’re interested in how to best engage your teammates in online discussions, click here.

3. Establish your team’s collaboration method and roles

Once your team understands the different intentions of team members and the instructions set up by the teaching team, it is then time to decide how to collaborate to work on the project at hand. If the collaboration discussion has not already begun, the team lead can be influential in starting the conversation about how the team will collaborate, whether it be using Google Docs or Hangouts. Effective teams have a clear structure to use different collaboration tools, and a good team lead will ensure this occurs.

Beyond how your team works together, it is important to clarify how team members contribute through different roles. In online and virtual teams, it can be easy to lose track of different members of the team, but clear roles and responsibilities (as well as the right collaborative learning platform) enable more accountability across the team. As team lead, you can start the discussion about roles and encourage team members to volunteer for different roles without directly assigning work to your teammates. Additionally, mixing up the responsibilities based on the project is an effective method of equally dividing up different roles.

As the team lead – it is important to ensure the team is on the same page about how your team will work together, as well as about how project roles and responsibilities are divided. Does your team understand how project will be accomplished? Do different members of the team understand their role and part in ensuring the project is successful?

4. Follow-up with absent teammates

Beyond setting the right tone with expectations and responsibilities, the most important role a team lead can play is encouraging teammates who fall behind. Having an occasional team member who rarely contributes may not have much of a negative impact, but if multiple members of the team fail to participate, the likelihood of success can drastically diminish. As the team lead, you can follow-up and encourage other team members to participate what they can.

The first priority with teammates who are not actively participating is to reinforce their position as a team member and provide support. After all, if the team member joined a team, their intent was to be a part of the team, and you want to help them reach that goal! However, if a team member is currently unable to participate in the team, you can provide  them the option (through private messaging) to withdraw from the team so that they can more fully participate and learn with a new team, either in the current course offering or a future offering. Always assume positive intent when interacting with underperforming team members, as one never knows what challenges they may be facing outside the course environment.

As the team lead – it is important to keep an eye out for those you can help. If someone falls behind, how can you best encourage their future participation? How can you ensure that those who may not be able to fully participate in every activity have roles in other activities?


A successful virtual team starts with a shared interest or goal, and is built upon trusting your teammates through understanding their expectations. Additionally, such virtual teams leaders will usually set clear roles and keep teammates honest. Once your team has successful reached your collective goals, make sure you celebrate and thank everyone for their contributions. Remember, your teammates are what make your learning experience unique and special!

Andrew Linford NovoEd

Andrew is the Senior Operations Manager at NovoEd, where he works with customers as a consultant and customer success manager, helps manage internal operations, and analyzes effective teams. He is a graduate of the CORO Program in Public Affairs, through which he worked at diverse organizations including the San Francisco Teachers’ Union and in Bechtel’s Treasury. Andrew graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in International Relations, and previously taught in Singapore.
Check out our other post to learn about the Best Practices For Virtual Teams.