Blog - Peter Ivanov

How to lead virtual teams?

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Few people realize the challenges of leading virtual teams.

Connect people.

I think main point is that people don’t see each other and unless you as a manager provide time and format and structure for them to present themselves as individuals, they would never do this themselves and they would stay anonymous. They will not become a team but will be just a group of separate experts selected to perform a certain task.
One of the challenges, since there is no time at the coffee machine, this format needs to be re-created online. Give people an opportunity to present themselves and their strengths on a regular basis. This keeps people-to-people connection and relationship going.

Decentralize communication.

Very often managers of virtual teams are the ones who deliver communication to the team, top down: goals, corporate targets, etc. but the best way of communicating with virtual teams is to decentralize communication and empower the team instead and don’t micro-manage! Give them a clear goal: WHAT to be delivered but then set them free on the HOW, of course, within budget and time constraints. But for the rest empower the people and let them shine!

Incentivize your team.

And I think the third one is incentives. Because people don’t see themselves doesn’t mean that they cannot celebrate together. You could go for exotic trips if you could fund it but I also work a lot with NGOs which have zero budget and they do like virtual pizza and they gather everyone and they see each other on the video and they pop up the same bottle of sparkling wine at different locations! So, even without a budget, if you let them think, if you have a clear target you can still celebrate. So, this fun factor sometimes is underestimated but it could be done if you facilitate and let the people choose.

How often should Virtual Teams meet?

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What is the optimal frequency and agenda for those Team meetings?

Peter Ivanov responding to the audience question on the international meeting planners summit.

As often as possible – it’s a budgetary restriction but I would say – once a year. Try to do it once a year at least. Why? Year is a dynamic in which we live. It’s part of our lives. Our green planet turns around the sun within one year. The most corporate planning cycles and reporting financial results are based on an yearly cycles.

At least once a year aim to have a round of reviewing the delivery of the past goals and setting new goals as a Team. This is also the place to have a discussion – how do we work as a team. I would encourage you to do it face to face. If you cannot afford the travel, the current technologies allow to simulate Online many of the live meeting experiences i.e. white boards, break out virtual rooms and rich video interactions. Key for this meeting is to set the goals bottom up as a Team leveraging the strengths of each Team member.

Apart from performance review and goal setting this yearly meeting is a great opportunity for feedback – how do we work as a team. Here everyone shares with everyone – 1) what do you do well, 2) what you should stop doing and 3)what is something that you can do, but perhaps you are not yet aware, that could certainly help the teams performance. This is the format – Start, Stop, Continue doing and if done honestly and openly is quite powerful.

I think it’s critical to set the annual goals as a Team but also through open and honest feedback to significantly improve the performance of the Team year after year.

Peter Ivanov is a Virtual Teams Expert, Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach. His Management System “Virtual Power Teams” has won multiple corporate awards.

Get your Virtual Team to the Next Level!


5 effective Tips to deal with “Stoppers” i.e. critical or aggressive participants in a phone conference!

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office-1516329_1280Telephone or Video conferences have become a common communication practice for virtual teams in different locations.
If you need to align your Team, make a decision or resolve a problem you usually call a phone conference.
How often do you experience a “Stopper” i.e. a participant who is critical or even aggressive to any idea suggested by the Team?
How to deal with those Stoppers effectively?
At the first place you need to start dealing with them way in advance before the conference.
You need to involve them in shaping the Team agenda i.e. the annual strategic projects of the Team. Best format for this in an interactive “face to face“ workshop.
If everyone is involved in shaping the team’s agenda and is given a chance to propose and criticize it you will have much “smoother ride” later.

Tip 1: Flow for the “Shaping Workshop” in 4 distinct stages:

1. Collect all issues and opportunities from each team member. You may use proactive questions – What lies on my heart? What says my gut feel? What can give me wings?
2. Through voting (each participant has 3 votes) collect the Top 3 hottest topics
3. Transform the 3 Hot topics into SMART goals – specific, measurable and time bound
4. Build Roadmaps laying down key deliverables and milestones for achieving the 3 goals

Essential is that everyone voluntarily chooses which Milestone or Deliverable to be responsible for based on his natural strengths. Later on when the team members work remotely that would significantly improve their motivation and commitment.

To avoid Stopper behavior is key that their abilities, talents are strengths are recognized in advance and known by everyone. In such a way the Stopper do not need to fight for attention through critic and aggressive behavior. Instead he feels recognized and invited to contribute in shaping and delivering the team’s agenda.

Tip 2: Discover the natural Strengths and talents of each team members. There are simple coaching techniques for discovering the genuine strengths. With a simple set of 5 questions your team member can identify each other strengths in pairs.
Once strengths are identified, capture them on the wall in a “Strength matrix”. In this way everyone feels special, posseting “super powers” recognized by all other team members. If you still encounter highly critical and even aggressive behavior try to find out what are the underlying needs and intentions.

Tip 3: Do not go to advocate with full power your position (being criticized by the Stopper) but ask questions – what is he/ she trying to achieve?
If you cannot get satisfactory answer on the needs, goals and intentions park the issue and schedule an immediate “One to One” conference with the “stopper”.

Tip 4: Nominate a Moderator for your Team conferences – someone who builds the Agenda in advance and manages timing. The Moderator is allowed to interrupt participants in order to deliver the agenda. I would not recommend that the Manager of the Team is a Moderator as well. I would rather advise the Manager to step in when the decision needs to be made or to resolve a conflict instead of “wasting” his authority to manage time.

Tipp 5: I would also recommend that everyone has a pre-agreed time slot to talk during a phone conference so extroverts, introverts and stoppers alike has their opportunity to lay down their progress, problems and suggestions.

In order to effectively deal with stoppers you need to recognize their strengths, involve them in advance in shaping the Team’s strategic agenda and praise them continuously for their contribution.
In such a way you improve the gravity of your team, tackle distractive behavior and set the right tone for Success!

peter-ivanov-profilbildPeter Ivanov is Virtual Teams Expert, Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach.

Are you keen to get the Performance of your remote Team to the next level?    

Request a free “Virtual Power Teams” strategy session

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The organisation of the Future

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Peter Ivanov interviewed by the Bulgarian Association for People Management

How do you imagine “the organisation of the future”?

Peter-Ivanov-portrait-1-e1444923966424I see the Organisation of the future with 3 distinguishing characteristics:

1) comprised of Empowered people with more decision making freedom and license to lead;

2) more virtual – people will be working from home or wherever they find most inspiring

3) flat hierarchy – there will be less organisational layers and more self-organisation around clear purpose and values.

People will have the opportunity to suggest projects and then based on the number of followers they gather to build the dynamic portfolio of the organisation.

That would ensue more changing leaders instead of fixed org structure. This kind of organization will be better prepared to drive innovation and also to create and respond to new “disruptive” trends

Is it very different from the current one? 

Yes, fundamentally.

What are the major differences?

Firstly – the organizational structure will be with less hierarchical levels and more fluid – less static roles and more project driven ones. I expect lean senior team and pool of experts that will self organize themselves around projects.

The key motivator will not be career as people will be switching anyway but Development. Key question will be – what can you learn and experience in the organisation and what difference are you making for a better the world.

What would you start doing today in order to prepare for it?

The20FutureA few things managers can start doing gradually now:

-Allow people to work from home, abolish the fixed working time and measure & reward your people on results not efforts or time spend in the office.

-Allow them to work half a day a week on projects they choose, they research and has the ability to lead providing they get sufficient followers within the organisation.

This will foster creativity and empowerment and will improve your team motivation and effectiveness.

How would your “ideal” organization look like? – share your vision

The ideal organization will be built by experts spread around the world and united by a common vision and mission for a better world! There will be key hubs with more people and infrastructure gathered there, complimented by some “free riders” working from their favorite locations.

It will be flexible – new people will be joining smoothly, being embraced and supported by the core team and leaving once their role and development has been completed.

The people will be strongly empowered to lead projects and strategic initiatives and pursue their ideas and passion in life.

Reward will be less money and career driven but centered on purpose and development. The Joy & Fun of working together and accomplishing a mission will be key magnet to retain people.

The people will still be meeting face to face but rather at exotic locations to plan their work and to celebrate success!

woman working on a laptop at a perfect beach in the caribbean

Peter Ivanov is a Virtual Teams Expert, Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach. His Management System “Virtual Power Teams” has won multiple corporate Awards.

How to avoid the “Hide & Seek” game in Virtual Teams

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IMG_0384Have you worked on a project where you give everything but the other team members are not as motivated? In a virtual Team, where people are spread across several locations, it is much easier to hide behind the corner and not give it your best. You can just avoid answering your phone calls and voice mails and selectively answer your emails.How to avoid this “Virtual Hide & Seek” game and turn your team’s performance into “Joy & Shine” Top Performance?

My formula has worked in Europe, Asia, Africa and the America: give everyone a Goal of his/her Own! And here we are not talking of small, short term daily or weekly goals; we are talking of big, annual strategic goals. Of course, in large teams with organizational hierarchy, this applies to the Leadership team – everyone has a strategic goal and this same principle can be cascaded down to the sub teams within the bigger team. The key here is to give everyone full decision-making freedom to deliver on the goal and let him or her shine. There are obviously some budgetary, organizational and cultural constraints, but in principle, everyone is free to deliver. And if you break the main strategic goal into so many sub goals, the goals are interdependent and the more interdependent they are the better – because this creates interaction and gravity within the virtual Team!

In order to let every Team member shine, he or she should work in his area of strengths. To discover his strengths there academically proven ways (e.g., Strengths Finder 2.0 from Gallup), but there also simple and pragmatic coaching questions to get there: What is easy to do and brings you joy in your work? What do others come to you and seek help on? If I ask your best friend what your main strength is, what would he say?
Once you discovered the strengths, you can assign the goal so that each Team member works in his strength area, feeling joy at work and delivering top performance. What is the effect of the Interdependent goals related to individual Strengths?

  • Empowerment – people are set free to deliver and hence highly motivated
  • Joy – working in the true strength area brings joy and people are willing to go the extra mile
  • Unity of the team – the goals are interdependent and the success of each goal depends on the others (i.e., we can win only as a Team).

I am wishing you Joy & Success in applying this strengths-based interdependent goals approach and translating the Hide & Seek game into Joy & shine Top Performance!

How to establish regular and structured communication in Virtual Teams. A guide to a world of business cultures Part 2.

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After you have found the right people for your team ‘recipe’, it is time to start stirring your meal. It is essential to establish regular rituals that allow each individual to present their personal and particular cultural highlights. It is essential to have regular meetings or, if by remote correspondence, – phone or video conferences to nurture relations and team unity.

The key to successful communication in Virtual Teams is Rhythm and Structure. Provide each member of your team with fair opportunity to express themselves and their particular culture.

Tip 4: Hold regular meetings, ideally weekly, ensuring each team member has a fair time slot to present. Set a cultural theme calendar and appoint a host to facilitate it. The “Cultural host” can play their traditional (or their favorite) music to welcome attendees on board the event.

Tip 5: Social media groups

Develop team relations via a closed Facebook group so members can share personal highlights, (including cultural) – such as Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Diwali etc.

Be aware that multi –linguistic communications can be prone to misunderstanding. There’s a popular post on Internet that explains ‘what the English may “say’” is often not what they actually “mean” ‘. In some cases it can be quite the opposite. E.g. “Not too bad” can mean “Quite good”.

Also, the well-known example of Indians saying, “Yes”, irrespective of circumstance, as wishing not to offend, by saying “No” is of greater significance. So make sure you use simple language and always ask questions to check and make sure your message has been understood.

How to pick the right time for a global phone conference is important. Normally a global telephone conference takes place at lunch time for continental Europe, whereas in Australia, it will be late evening when your team member greets you with a beer in their hand and you might hear dogs barking or children’s chatter every time he un-mutes his phone. On the other hand in Brazil, your team member is getting ready for the day ahead dressed in bathrobe, freshly showered,

These glimpses into personal time can have a bonding effect – but to be fair, international team members will appreciate a rotation of meeting times. In brief – rotate timing for global conferences so that impact on private lives can be fairly/equally spread.

A guide to world business cultures

European Culture

Europe is diversed in terms of its history and traditions. We still carry historically ‘charged’ notions of European identity e.g. The Eastern & Western European divide or an insular Germany in relation to the rest of Europe.


  • The lack of specialists` resources in Western Europe drives immigration to the West; and identifies a clear need for Virtual Team integration
  • More and more outsourced manufacturing sent to China requires cultural integration
  • Labour Law protection: Employees supported by syndicates and workers councils, (especially in France and Germany) eagerly protect their work- life balance.
  • Younger generations from all continents including Europe tend to mix work and life with an aspiration for a better world.

Australian Culture


  • Sport & Fun – Here we often see fit people jogging, swimming or wearing surf boards
  • Sociability  – vivid cafes, bars and restaurants make it easier to engage with strangers
  • Regulations – lots of rules well enforced by their government
  • World Travelers – Australians love to travel to Europe, America etc. to live & find work.


How to set a goal and celebrate the cultural diversity of your Team?

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In Part 1 of this blog we identify the 3 ingredients to forge cultural bridges: – Recipe, Heat and Regular stirring

  • Recipe – Understanding the diversity of people and having a clear goal.
  • Stirring – establishing rituals and structured communication
  • Hot plate – Appealing prizes and creative reporting

Let’s have a look now – how do we reveal and acknowledge the cultural potential of Virtual Team members?

 Get to know their cultures – history, habits, and values

Let people present their cultures. Let them briefly explain the history of their country, typical customs and celebrated values.

Encourage them to share a song or a picture showing locations or events in their country, they are most proud of.

Tip 1: Celebratory Cultural Meeting –

Enable each culture to represent achievements they are most proud of. Possibilities include cooked meals, music and dancing.

Common Goals

Once Team diversity is acknowledged – it is time to set common goals. These will be the magnets that pull and hold people together from around the world.

Tip 2: Set a clear ambitious goal and discuss with the team – why do we do it? i.e. which world challenges do we aim to resolve or how will we make the world a better place?

In the new world – more and more people are working on projects with clear Goals instead of “silo” based corporate departments where they feel merely a ‘cog in the wheel’ or unacknowledged in the greater scheme of things. The younger generations “Y” and “Millennia’s” are more fluid and integrate with ease in multi-cultural teams. They expect dynamic learning environments, clear goals and to have fun; to inspire desire to create a better world instead of following old-fashioned career paths prevalent in established corporations.

A guide to business cultures

Each country within the continent celebrates its own unique culture. It is also essential we appreciate the cultural common features continents share. Here are some commonalities that can help us to culturally orientate:

Virtual TeamAsian culture

  • Respect and discipline – respect for the leader and individual makes following rules and processes simpler.
  • Saving Face – never criticize a person in front of others. It is considered offensive and severely damages the self-esteem of the critiqued person.
  • Emotions held in check– the smile is always there but can be rather formal.
  • Autocratic – the leader gives orders and teams await orders.
  • Distant – careful distance is kept with business partners and there is a clear segregation between work and life
  • Long-term thinking and planning – usually 10 years +


African Culture

  • Fun – genuinely joyful and ready for fun at any time
  • No rush – job satisfaction is more important than speed – you can always slow down and enjoy.
  • Support of extended family – often rich people are expected to support their extended family reaching 100+ relatives, in-laws etc. (and they do)
  • Religion plays a significant role – nurtures integrity and ethical behaviour

To be continued –

How to establish regular and structured communication and how to “”stir” your team? A guide to a world of business cultures- 2nd part


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Bridge over troubled water – how to address the challenges in Multi-Cultural teams and unite them for Top performance!

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We live in a time when total world information doubles every 6 months. 60% of business teams consist of members from different nationalities and cultures. Also 81% of us work with people who are somewhere else – at home in the next city or on the other side of the world.

This new world requires diverse, multicultural groups of people to rise above geography and culture and to work together as one team in order to overcome the toughest challenges. The biggest challenge ahead is – How to communicate effectively and achieve top performance together?

3 ingredients to forge cultural bridges: – recipe, heat and regular stirring.

  • Recipe – understanding the variety of people and having a clear goal
  • Stirring – establishing rituals and structured communication
  • Hot Plate – Appealing Prizes and creative reporting

So let’s start “cooking”! If you want to successfully unite diverse cultures, first you need to pick the best ingredients.

  • Recipe – appreciate your ingredients – the people and the meal you are cooking i.e. establish the purpose of the team

We are all individuals with our unique skills, personalities and strengths. Recognizing and celebrating individuality is the key to successful communication. The leader of multicultural Team has to promote different personalities and provide time and space for them to unfold and flourish.

Virtual Team

Tip 1: No prejudice – all communication happens eye to eye with equal respect.

We must work together to resolve world challenges, so we need to overcome prejudice and stereotypes and discrimination between nations. It is key we treat each other with respect and recognize what each person brings to the table.

Tip 2: Call a meeting and let people present their own personal and professional achievements.

When people share moments they are most proud of and let their unique personality shine – this enables relationships among the team members to flourish.

A clear common goal creates unity of direction but it is the celebration of the diversity of the people involved that attracts and bridges cultures.

To be continued: How to set goals and celebrate cultural diversity? A guide to business culture in the world – part 1.

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3 Common Mistakes In Managing Virtual Teams

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Virtual Teams are everywhere now – from home office workers to workers in offices in multiple locations and teams embedded in large global corporations.

According to Forrester Consulting 81% of Teams are distributed across multiple locations.

Often when a Projects team is dispersed they suffer delays and sometimes complete failure. International investments are put at Risk due to the intercultural issues or simply because the team members feel isolated and unmotivated.

What are the 3 most common Mistakes of managing virtual teams?

What are the 3 areas, which if addressed correctly can raise your Virtual Team performance exponentially?

Mistake one: Neglect the importance of Personality

Often Managers of virtual teams say:
“People do not meet anyway. Why should I bother to get to know them deeper as individuals? The ones that want to engage can always get in contact privately.”

In virtual teams the opportunity for face-to-face communication is highly limited. The ability to get to know each other, sharing enthusiasms and personal histories in a “coffee machine” type of conversation is highly reduced.
Therefore many managers ignore the unique personality potential of their Team members as a factor for improving performance.
Taken to the extreme the People in the virtual team become anonymous and are considered only as “resource” bringing specific skills set and delivering particular results.

In every Team – Local or Virtual, the key success factor is Trust.
Trust has two aspects – Personality and Professional Competence i.e. how well the individual team members know each other, and of course how well they contribute their professional competence!

If you understand your Team members well – i.e. what makes their heart sing in life, what they enjoy, and what energizes their work, you are much better enabled to support and lead them despite the distance.


Do you know your virtual team’s personal interests, passions and strengths?
How can unique personalities of each team member find expression in the Team?
How do you sustain interpersonal relationships over time and build on them for team success?


Mistake two: Communication happens ad hoc or is Manager centric

Have you felt bored during a Virtual Team phone conference?

Often Virtual Teams only call a Team conference when urgent issues arise.
And on these calls – often it is the Manager who does the bulk of the talking.
Debate based on trust and practice – has to relent to the manager’s monologue.
Another regular example– is experienced at ‘quarterly updates’ – where the manager presents facts and figures to a slightly bored work team who are easily distracted by other work issues

How can you break this “boredom” pattern?

Give everyone on the Virtual Team a responsibility to deliver during the call.
Let everyone have his or her own slot. Let them report back on their issues and debate their causes. Make sure the time agenda allows everyone fair time slots.

Let people report personal and professional highs and lows since last call.
This is the “salt”, the essence – to creating empathic and dynamic team relationships and how you can sustain and develop the interpersonal relationships over time.

The Fusion of Personal and Professional; formal and informal, input and debate is the antidote to Boredom

Having shared structured team communication plans nurture the interpersonal relationships and encourages Team unity and momentum.


Do you have a plan for your Team conference calls?
How often should you have regular updates for your team?
How can you raise the level of participation for each team member?

Mistake three:
Lack of Reward for outstanding Success

Often virtual team managers take Performance of their teams for granted. Reward is reflected in salary or Individual Bonus but there is nothing exiting to further ignite the flame of Top performance.
People want to be heroes. They like to be part of a great-united Team that achieves a miracle.
In my own management practice I’ve witnessed multiple “miracles”, many examples of where an Appealing Prize has inspired Teams to deliver phenomenal results.

Prizes do not need to be monetary – Tickets to Industry – top events, access to celebrities – All sort of highly appealing Prizes can trigger team inspiration.

There are cautions before you set up your Aspirational Prize:
Often Mangers offer a reasonable Prize but expect exceptional Performance. The Prize has itself to be extraordinary and the Manager can afford it since the cost of delay is often significantly higher than the cost of really appealing prize.

Enticing prizes, offered well in advance and creative progress reports can lead to phenomenal performance and results.


Does your team have Prizes for extraordinary achievements?
What event, travel destination or recognition of success would inspire your Team to go that extra mile?
How can you creatively report your Collective Goal progress?

Combining the 3 factors:

Personality: support the unique potential of the Individual
Structured Communication: nurture Trust between Team
Appealing Prize reward for outstanding performance
– All can unleash incredible energy in a virtual team and inspire it to deliver phenomenal results.

Peter Ivanov is a Virtual Teams Expert, Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach. His Management System “Virtual Power Teams” has won multiple corporate awards.


Are you ready to unleash the Power of Your virtual Team?

Request a free “Virtual Power Teams” strategy session with Peter Ivanov!