The Value of Face-to-Face Meetups to Catalyze a Distributed Organization

Mark Kilby is an agile mentor playing many roles on the software and product lifecycle stage. Currently, Mark serves as an agile coach with Sonatype, a completely distributed agile software development company, focusing on automation of software supply chains. Previously, Mark has led agile transformations from startups to Fortune 50 companies.

One of the keys to successful agile teams is to emphasize handshakes over handoffs. In other words, as a leader in a distributed organization, you want to find ways for people to spontaneously connect with each other on a personal level, not just discuss work. This is why a regular face-to-face meeting is so important. In my current organization, we refer to these events as "gatherings" or "meetups," as it is as much about our work community coming together as it is about the important work we do.

Regular Meetups vs. Meetings
Many companies successful with distributed teams still find value in bringing people together at least once a year to share visions for the company, products and to plan new directions. These face-to-face meetups provide remote workers a needed opportunity to connect with each other, making social connections which are just as important as the business and intellectual connections. These meetups work best when they take place over multiple days.

The working days of these meetups should contain a mix of strategic and tactical topics. Strategic topics help everyone involved see the big picture and how their role contributes. Tactical topics can cover skill building, exploring design options or brainstorming new solutions. It helps everyone determine where they can contribute uniquely to the larger vision. With more than one day, …

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"Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room."

- Winston Churchill