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7 Tips For Building a Great Distributed Team

29th Nov 2016
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There are many benefits to assembling a fully or partially distributed team. First and foremost, it gives you the opportunity to form a team that has the best possible combination of skills and talents without being limited by geographic considerations. It is also an excellent way to ensure that long distance customers have local points of contact.

In spite of these benefits, there are also some challenges. It can be difficult to ensure that communication is effective, which can result in conflicts and misunderstandings. Remote employees can also feel as if they are not part of the company culture. The following tips should help managers assemble distributed teams that are productive and that work well together.

Encourage Transparency And Openness in All Communications

Because there is a lack of face to face contact and personal communications among distributed team members, the need for clarity and openness is paramount. When communication occurs via phone, email, text, even skype subtleties such as sarcasm can be misinterpreted.

Team members should be encouraged to speak in as clear terms as possible. They should also be encouraged to ask open ended questions and feel free to request clarification when needed.

Find Ways to Get Team Members Together

If it is possible, an attempt should be made to get team members together. While there are workarounds that can help to facilitate team building, nothing quite works as well as getting people together in person to get to know one another.

Quarterly conferences, retreats, and team building sessions are just a few ways to get the most out of these in person meetings. If it is impossible to get everybody together, consider holding regional events.

Clearly Define Roles Goals And Milestones

One common cause of discord within distributed teams is the impression that not everybody is pulling their own weight. Conversely, there may also be situations where team members feel as if other people are overstepping their roles. Then there is the issue of misunderstanding when deliverables need to be met.

Team leaders need to be very clear when it comes to defining who has which roles and responsibilities. The goals of the team as it relates to the project should also be clearly written. Everybody should have a list of milestones along with information on who is responsible for completing each line item.

Consider Providing Remote Employees With Workspaces

Sometimes, remote employees need more resources than they have simply by working from home. They may need conference room space, powerful wi-fi, access to 3D printers, and other things that people working in centralized offices often take for granted.

In these instances, it may be a wise idea to provide them with access to workspaces. These are also known as hives or coworking spaces. Basically, for a monthly fee distributed team members can have access to office space, shared equipment, and a limited number of conference room hours each month. There is also the option of renting virtual office space. This includes perks such as having a professional mail forwarding address to provide to clients and coworkers.

Be Proactive in Dealing With Potential Culture Clashes

Members of a distributed team might consist of team members from a variety of backgrounds. There may be members of different languages, people who speak different native languages, and who have conflicting political and social views.

In addition to this, people on distributed teams may be feeling territorial or threatened. This is especially a risk factor when outside contractors are brought in to facilitate the completion of a project or to replace a team or a portion of a team.

Because of this, team supervisors should be diligent in identifying and mitigating potential conflicts. Stopping these before they become contentious and handling them with sensitivity is key.

Diligently Vet Out New Hires

With distributed teams, the importance of hiring team members who are fully qualified, and who will fit in with the other team members. Because the cost of recruiting, training, and hiring is higher with distributed teams, vetting is a key step.

One thing that may help is to involve established team members in the recruiting and interview process. When they have ownership over who becomes a teammate, they may be more invested in getting that person integrated and on board.

Have a Documented Reporting Structure

It isn’t enough to keep lines of communication open. Distributed teams need a documented means of reporting and communicating with one another. Because of this, it is imperative that each team member knows who the point of contact is for each concern or business area. This prevents productivity gridlock.

With a bit of effort, distributed teams can be just as effective as centralized teams. In some cases, they can achieve even higher levels of success. As long as communication is priority and an effort is made to ensure that teams work together, any distributed team should be able to work together to achieve common goals.

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