Serve, pass, set & spike! Yesterday I spent another long day sitting on an aluminum bleacher in a sports center among flying volleyballs, a constant shrill of whistles and hundreds of sweaty teenagers. Any parent of a child in organized sport knows the tournament drill all to well.  But beyond the thrill of the game itself, it provides a perfect opportunity to observe the nuances of the team on and off the court.  As I sat there watching my son play, the word “communication” came to mind. The fundamentals of any good volleyball team are serve, pass, set and spike. The unwritten fundamental is communication.  No matter the skill level, a team cannot move up in rank if they don’t communicate. The courts should be abuzz with shouts of “out!” “I got it!”, “nice dig”, and “free ball”. If there is no chatter, there is no win.

In an industry of self-professed communicators, I have seen many teams fail because they didn’t communicate with each other, there was no chatter. It’s even more apparent when some or all of the team works remotely, a situation I find myself in more often than not.  Trying to rally the team takes some strategy. As the coach, what should be your game plan to ensure effective, efficient and productive communication among your remote team? Here are a few things to consider to make sure that you are number one in your pool.

Hone your email skills: Face it, we communicate mainly through email today.

Make sure your tone reflects the content and the content relates to the subject line.

Be pleasant – I’m a big proponent of a hearty Hello Happy Friday! or other appropriate salutation and for goodness sake, if you are asking for something say please and thank you. If you are worked up and can’t be pleasant delete that first email response, walk away, take a breather and come back with a level head.

Respond to emails in a timely manner – if you can’t actually get to the task, just let your coworker know in a brief response that you are on it.

Pick up the phone: Yes, make a call. If you think that a message is too hard to put into writing, is a bit confusing, needs explanation and/or is urgent, drop a dime.

Communicate “in-person”: We are all guilty of checking Facebook while on a conference call, go on admit it. To really engage your team, set-up a Skype session or web conference – being able to see the team, and them you, will benefit everyone. Body language, smiles, laughs; the whole experience can be very helpful and can turn a dreaded weekly call into something to look forward to. That virtual cup of coffee will be the best cup you’ve had all week.

Strengthen the team bond: Team building, don’t wince – it can work and is especially important with a remote team of freelancers and consultants who might not have worked together before. Schedule a time to meet-up. It can be for drinks or a fun weekend away, whatever you choose gathering the team will build trust, open lines of communication and set a positive foundation for future projects.

Whether you are a Setter, Outside Hitter, Libero or Middle Blocker, you are a crucial part of the overall team and need to effectively communicate with your teammates. What are your best strategies for effectively communicating with your remote team?

For the record, my son’s team lost in the playoffs. The winning difference between his team and his opponents, communication.