How to teach your team to fish or – how to change processes

Teaching to fish is more than just tossing a fishing rod at someone.

I often hear that remote teams are more disengaged and less productive. New processes take longer to take hold, people don’t talk to each other that much, and in general, it’s just too difficult to make it work.

Difficult does not mean impossible. It means there are blockers that you can remove. Removing these blockers means you have work to do as a remote lead. The good news: if you can help your team to put the right processes and guidelines into place, this work is manageable, and predictable.

3 steps to correct inertia

By default, humans tend to do what they’ve always done, even if they read somewhere that the rules have changed. The reason is not willful malice, but information overload. To make sure that a new (or different) process takes hold, you’ll need to follow three steps:

  1. Post the new/modified process somewhere easy to find, e.g. your internal knowledge base.
  2. Highlight the new/modified process in your next team meeting and allow time for questions.
  3. Go through the changes with each and every team member in your next 1:1 (another reason to have at least biweekly check-ins).

Yes, this means that you will get sick of the topic. Explaining the same thing up to 15 times is not fun, but even then it means that most team members have only heard it once or twice. Part of your responsibility as a remote lead is to make sure each and every team member is aware of what they need to do – individually.

But in the office, I never had to do this

Office communication relies a lot on chance, circumstance, and people listening in on what others discuss. You looking stressed while explaining yet again how the new refund process works actually alerts all other co-workers to reviewing the process. in the office, your team expenses more energy on monitoring you and your interactions with others. For you, that feels like less work.

In a remote environment, no one listens in while you explain something in a 1:1. This allows to create rapport so much quicker, and it also means that the responsibility to support your team is on you. Sometimes that means you’ll really need to explain everything as many times as you have team members.

Sometimes it means you have to set up processes that allow your team to help each other grow. It is in your interest to design these processes upfront, instead of hoping they develop out of informal networks you can’t influence.

  • Where can you empower others than yourself to lead change?
  • Where can you encourage explicit teamwork between peers to accelerate learning?

There is no rule that all 1:1s need to be between you and individual team members. You could also pair them up between each other to encourage learning and knowledge transfer. Just don’t leave it to chance alone.

Teaching to fish also means spending a lot of time at the riverbank doing “nothing”

Yes, our team members are all responsible adults who “should be able to keep track of their responsibilities themselves”. You probably hate micromanaging as much as me. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just enunciate your new ideas, and they would become reality?

Maybe this will happen one day. It is your job to help your team members get there. As a remote lead, your main responsibility is helping your team members to do their job a little bit better every day. You’ll help them find the tools that work for them, the routines that make them thrive, the feedback they can use to grow. As a remote lead, you can’t just cruise along. You need to invest time and energy into each and every team member. Consistently.

Teaching someone to fish doesn’t mean to throw a fishing rod their way (as in, pointing them to a knowledge article). It means that you sit down with them explaining how a fishing rod works and how to use it. It means you show them what to do when a fish bites, how to get it out of the water, how to clean it and how to cook it. If the goal is stopping someone from starving long term, you need to go the whole way.

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