6 Tips for Maximizing the Potential of Distributed Teams
It’s not uncommon for companies these days to have distributed teams working on different sides of the globe towards the same goal. Many businesses opt for this type of arrangement because it helps to cut down costs, especially software companies that need to hire bigger development teams to increase the speed at which their product is created.
However, mismanaging distributed teams could actually lead to losing money and missing deadlines. And while distributed teams have their advantages, their disadvantages are also numerous.
If you want your distributed team to be successful, you need to devise a good strategy that is going to maximize the potential of your workforce. Here are six tips that can help towards achieving that goal.
Get Familiar With Your Team
Just because you are not working within the same office space, doesn’t mean that you should not take the time to get to know everyone on your team on a more personal level. Another common courtesy that you should strive to achieve is to learn how each team member’s name is spelled and pronounced correctly.
This will show respect and will also show that you are interested in learning about them and their culture. Make sure to communicate face-to-face as often as possible, and don’t forget to kick-off meetings every now and then with some simple chit chat that shows that you are interested in learning about the people behind the work.
Set Clear Goals
Poor planning is one of the biggest problems associated with managing distributed teams. There is a greater chance that verbal instructions can be misunderstood when speaking to people who do not share the same native tongue. Plus, attending meetings and keeping everyone on the same page can be a very stressful process when you are all working from different time zones.
It is highly recommended to use some type of project management software that will allow you to set goals and track their progress. This not only gives your goals structure, it also provides a forum where everyone can communicate and gain very transparent insights into all of the the team’s roles, responsibilities and deadlines.
Provide Language Training
It should be clear by now that strong communication is one of the most important elements of running a successful business with distributed workers. That’s why you should invest in making communication easier for everyone.
If your company is based in an English-speaking country and your distributed teams are not, help them improve their English skills in order to improve communication across the board. You can hire ex-pat tutors or set the teams up with English language certification programs and courses.
It would be a nice move on your side to learn some key words and phrases from their language as well. Also, learning about each other’s cultures in addition to languages is also a great idea for bringing your team together.
Promote Constant Communication
The importance of strong and constant communication cannot be reiterated enough. The fact that your teams are operating in different time zones should make communication that much more important.
Use either dedicated business messaging services or popular everyday ones like Skype and Google Hangouts to keep your teams on the line at all times. And don’t be afraid to encourage non-formal communication either.
Set up chat rooms for sharing fun stories and pictures to lighten up the mood and allow your teams to have fun together and learn about each other on a personal level while working on projects.
Respect Everyone’s Time
The fact that you are not all working at the same time can cause tension if it is not handled correctly. In the best-case scenario, your teams will have several hours of overlapping work time so that they can work together in real-time.
But when it’s time for your foreign team to go home, you need to respect those boundaries. Sending them emails that they should respond to the next day is no big deal, but constantly asking them to work from home after they have worked an entire shift of their own can be very daunting and could create tension.
If you’re in a situation in which you are going to need to talk to someone on that team on a regular basis after work hours, it could be a good idea to divide the distributed team up into earlier and later shifts.
Delegate Headhunting Duties
This phase should come a bit later in the process. Many people begin assembling distributed teams through online job sites and eventually expand to a point where they can open up an office in a foreign country.
If you reach that point, it would be best to let people at that location help you in recruiting new team members. Hopefully, you have already built trusting relationships with some of the senior members of your distributed team. Not only do they know what your product needs, but they also know their own community a lot better than you do.
Of course, you should always screen new candidates yourself and have the last say, but putting the preliminary process in the hands of the most trusted people in your offshore office will certainly help you to get the best talent possible.
There really is no two ways about it; running a successful team that is distributed around the world is a very complex and challenging proposition. But at the same time, it is one that will pay significant dividends if you manage to get it right.
Not only can you save a lot of money working this way, adding a multi-cultural spirit to your company can give your entire operation a new creative edge and unique perspective.