By Deanna Landers
Agile principles indicate that teams should be co-located. However, sometimes, there is no option other than to have team members geographically dispersed. In fact, sometimes this distribution and diversity may be a key advantage to delivering a particular result, such as handing off between time zones for continuous support, and providing a service to communities throughout the world.
Oftentimes, a distributed team is not only dispersed geographically in the same city or across the world, but also culturally. This not only contributes to the richness of diversity on the team, but also can include differences in the areas of communication style, business protocol, decision-making, dealing with authority, concepts of time, and negotiation styles.
There is a world of difference between simply working together and truly collaborating. The following are some tips to improve your distributed team’s collaboration and subsequently their performance:
Share the project vision
● The team needs to document the vision, the value, and benefits realized from the successful completion of the project.
● Translate this vision into the activities required to achieve the vision.
Build a social contract
● Identify how the team will interact, what behaviors are acceptable and encouraged, and what is forbidden or discouraged.
● Hold each member accountable for adhering to the contract.
Share a dedication to collaboration
● The team and its sponsorship need to be dedicated to enhancing collaboration among a group of people that does not have opportunities to communicate face-to-face.
● Help all stakeholders recognize that success is dependent upon greater connections and understanding between team members is essential.
Select the appropriate medium for connection
● Take or make opportunities to be face-to-face - even if it’s by video conference - during the first meeting and especially when you find communication difficult. In person interactions are more effective at building trust.
● Schedule a teleconference when you find the back-and-forth on a particular topic takes several rounds, or even better, a video conference.
● Use tools that support remote collaboration, such as information sharing (e.g. Slack, Campfire), videoconferencing (e.g. Skype, Google Hangouts), team social networking (e.g. Yammer, Chatter), scheduling (e.g. Doodle, Timebridge), presenting (e.g. Mural, Prezi), and document sharing (e.g. DropBox, Google Drive).
Increase cross cultural awareness
● Develop skills for working in a multi-cultural team. Increase the team’s cultural knowledge and sensitivity.
● Karen Smits, renowned cultural anthropologist, indicates that it's important to remember that "bringing several people (from across borders) together to complete a certain task does not make them a team. You don't build a team by just getting to know each other. You build a team by joint learning and facing challenges together."
Plan for continuous results
● Whether officially agile or not, avoid the big bang deliverable at the end approach.
● Frequently allow team members time to review results and for customers time to provide feedback. This reduces the impact of communication issues caused by distributed teams.
In the end, our teams are dedicated to collaboration. We will be able to attain project success as a team, grow as individuals, and build lasting relationships and trust that will allow for even more success and fulfillment going forward.
Deanna Landers (@deannalanders) is the founder of Project Managers Without Borders. She was on the PMI International Board of Directors for 6 years, and was the Chair of the Board in 2013. She is a PMO and Portfolio Management leader at IBM. Find her on LinkedIn!