If you want to see your remote teams succeed, you must evaluate your management style. Read on to see if extreme ownership could benefit you and your team.

Telecommuting has been on the rise for many years now. A report from Gallup states that around one-third of the U.S. population is working remotely. Companies like Amazon, Dell, Salesforce, Adobe, and IBM, amongst many others, offer work from home opportunities.

A report by Global Workplace Analytics suggests that 80 to 90% of employees would prefer to be working remotely. In fact, work from home options, flexible working hours, and more vacation time were 3 of the top 5 benefits in a recent survey of employees.

80-90% employees would prefer to be working remotely. Click To Tweet

Remote work is the need of the hour but it can be a double-edged sword for businesses. There is no question about the advantages but it comes with a unique set of challenges. You can have the best talent on hand but it will not work unless you’ve made adjustments to your management style.

Why can’t we keep doing it the old way?

I don’t need to tell how different it is from collocated teams. Global talent is up for grabs but the difference in the time zones, language barriers, or cultural differences can turn this advantage into a headache.

You are dealing with a new model, new challenges, and new opportunities. The old way is not going to work anymore.

So, what’s the best way to manage a remote team?

I am Jens Andersen, owner, and founder of RunRepeat.com, and today I am going to share an approach that helped me grow from 11 employees to more than 50 in less than a year.

Extreme Ownership:

So many wise words have been said on how to run a remote team but the topic of ownership is overlooked.

Here’s the thing: You cannot micro-manage each and everything. Why not trust, encourage, and empower your team members to take the ownership and manage certain areas of your business?

At its most basic level, extreme ownership is about self-discipline and responsibility. As a manager, you need to decentralize command. Hand over responsibilities and hold them accountable.

extreme ownership

The technique was first introduced in the NYT bestseller Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two former Navy SEALs.

They don’t talk about remote teams, but the approach fits the telecommute model in many ways. Communication and self-management are critical in the battlefield. These two factors are equally important for remote teams.

This simple change in your approach will help you minimize communication, increase team happiness and increase output.

Want to see how it works?

Minimize the need for constant communication:

Probably the biggest challenge with distributed teams is the lack of quality communication.

Face to face meeting is not possible. It’s no secret that body language is more important than the actual words, and thus around half of all communication is lost in remote teams.

Different working hours make it difficult to get everybody in an online conference. At times, things get stuck because someone goes missing without any notice. They might be slow or totally avoid responding to your messages.

There are many ways to improve the quality of communication but the first thing is to minimize the need for constant communication.

This is exactly what extreme ownership does.

The ownership encourages them to think and find the way forward. If it’s you giving all the answers and directions, your employees will stop thinking. Why think when you can get the answers? This leads to dependency which is everything but optimal in remote teams.

At RunRepeat, the bulk of communication takes place on Trello. I use it for assigning projects. There are no day-to-day tasks or instructions.

It will also improve the quality of communication. Instead of conference calls where you speak and everybody listens, you will have input from all team members.

Extreme ownership develops free-thinking individuals, not just cogs in the wheel.

Well defined responsibilities improve efficiency:

If you have read about Holacracy, the concept of extreme ownership might sound similar. But there is a major difference. Holacracy is a self-management practice with rather undefined roles. Extreme ownership encourages self-management but it emphasizes predefined roles and responsibilities.

In my early days of remote team management, I spent so much time designating tasks on a day to day basis. That’s counterproductive. You don’t want to spend all of your time thinking: what are they working on? What do they need to do next?

A typical business will have many different teams like marketing, development, or customer support. If you are assigning the day-to-day tasks, it will be hard to get them all working in sync. Every so often, you will find employees working on irrelevant or unnecessary stuff.

Not with the extreme ownership.

The concept requires all employees to own at least one area of the business. As mentioned earlier, I use a collaboration tool to assign projects, not day to day tasks.

Once assigned, they must plan and execute the project themselves. It makes them more efficient. Even more important, it gets them to think. Once they start treating the business or project as their own, they will be keen to achieve maximum results with minimum efforts.

It boosts productivity:

Remote work is known for improving productivity but there’s always room for improvement.

One of the biggest advantages of clear roles and responsibilities is the boost in productivity. We know that multitasking can hurt productivity. Focusing on a job allows them to polish their skills.

Productivity improves as they learn new and better ways to do things. Soon, you will have specialists working on what they do best. According to this Gallup study, employees are happy and perform better when they use their strengths.

extreme ownership

It will also help them steer clear of the distraction.

Distractions can trap you easily if you are working as a mindless automaton. Assuming complete responsibility will force them to be mindful. As a result, they will not fall prey to distractions.

You will improve as a leader:

You might think that managers are redundant in this scenario. It is actually the opposite.

Extreme ownership will help you improve as a leader.

First of all, you want to build a team of problem solvers and for that, you must allow them to fail. They shouldn’t just own the project, they must own the problems too. Decide when it’s time to reach for rescue and when to let them sort it out.

Second, you will learn to be patient. When they start taking initiatives, it will take time before it starts to pay dividends.

These are two of the greatest attributes of leaders. Be patient and allow team members to fail. It’s a part of their, hopefully, steep learning curve.

What’s your role in all this?

In order to reap the benefits of extreme ownership, you need to up your game on many fronts.

Hire the right guys:

First, you need to hire people who are really good at what they do. Non-experts will need a lot of time and guidance in getting started. Other than the desired skills, look for characteristics like determination, discipline, and confidence. Remote teams need strong leaders, not followers.

Do you think such employees are hard to find? Think again. In a recent survey, 61% employees said that they will consider changing jobs if the work is not challenging enough. What’s more challenging than assuming complete responsibility?

Help them take control:

Extreme ownership doesn’t mean they are on their own from day one. For juniors or new employees, it is going to be a slow and gradual process. Make sure that you are helping and providing adequate resources to facilitate the process. Engage them by asking for suggestions or ideas. Do not discourage questions or they will waste a lot of time figuring out simple stuff.

Be there when they need help:

Allow them to fail but make sure that they are failing safely. They must seek approval when they are doing something new (or something big). You don’t want costly mistakes that could have been avoided. Plus, your feedback will help them learn the nitty-gritty more easily.

Speaking of the dos and don’ts, it will help if you can create some on-boarding documents with basic guidelines. It’s a one-time investment that will save a lot of time and effort for years to come.

Tracking is important, so is trust:

You need some sort of checks and balances system, so tracking is important (I use and recommend Hubstaff for that). Hubstaff is a simple, powerful employee monitoring and time tracking application designed to make managing remote teams as easy as possible.

However, extreme ownership cannot work if you are not ready to give up some control. You cannot hold them accountable if you have not passed on the authority. They are answerable if they don’t meet the targets, but there’s no need to control or scrutinize everything they do.

Show your appreciation:

Make sure that you are having 1-on-1 sessions on a regular basis. Discuss their strengths and weaknesses and give your feedback on everything they do. Remember, monetary rewards or bonuses are good but these are not enough. Remote workers need recognition just as much as office employees. Employees are 10 times more likely to enjoy working for your business if they feel like their efforts are appreciated.

Use a strong “why” to build a shared purpose:

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe

Simon Sinek has discussed the importance of “why” in his book “Start with Why”. Knowing what to do is not enough – every employee must understand why they are doing it or they will feel detached. Knowing how their work is benefiting the business will give them a clear purpose.

The team at RunRepeat knows that we are working towards building the biggest and the most trustworthy platform for running shoe reviews. That allows everybody to look at the bigger picture and make the right decisions.

Build team spirit:

It is not the high IQ or motivation level that helps certain teams perform better than the others. Scientists found that teams that communicated more, participated equally in the discussions, and possessed good emotion-reading skills outperformed others.

Extreme ownership encourages everybody to communicate and actively participate in the team discussions. You can further enforce this by creating agendas for the meetings that include an update from each person on the team.

Manage people, not timecards

Simple online timesheets that reduce administration so you can focus on what’s most important - your people and clients.

My personal experience managing a remote team of 51 employees

The biggest challenge has been to let people fail. While I often know the answer to what an employee should do (due to my experience in the company and years as a competitive runner), the better solution is to let the employees find it out themselves.

The second biggest challenge I’ve faced has been to understand that it takes time for employees to learn from their mistakes. I have allowed team members to make an imperfect choice more often than not.

As a final note, I’ve learned that with well-defined responsibilities, it’s also important to keep everyone accountable – even more so with a remote team. When people don’t live up to their promises, a leader must help the one who made a mistake to realize and to learn from it.

Bottom line

Adapting an approach like extreme ownership will be a challenge. I know that from my experience. However, with some patience, flexibility, and trial and error, you will start to see the benefits.

Soon, you will have team members who are as invested in your business success, as you. Isn’t that what you want?

Have you used extreme ownership in your organization? How did it go? We’d love to hear your thoughts about it below.