Guest post by my friend and coworker Jane Prusakova; read more on her blog at http://softwareandotherthings.blogspot.com
A distributed team faces many challenges that cannot be solved organically through face-to-face conversation amongst its members. However, it is possible to have a highly productive remote, or distributed, team using technology and various remote communication channels.
Communication setup should be easily available and accessible for all team members. It is helpful to have high-quality tools – broadband connection for voice and video, good speakers and microphones, large screens. Conversations tend to flow a lot smoother when people can recognize who is talking by their voice and when face expressions are visible on video without a delay. The teams should also pre-configure and test communication software and hardware. Every person on the team should be able to initiate and participate in conversations as needed with minimal hassle. Meetings that spend the first 15-30 minutes fiddling with software accomplish less and are filled with frustration.
Another good way to foster communication on a distributed team is to allow conversations to flow before and after scheduled meetings, just like they would for a group of people in the same room. Have a meeting line started ahead of scheduled time and allow people to continue talking after official meeting is over.
When a distributed team consists of several collocated groups, take special care to avoid ‘US vs THEM’ terminology and mentality. Make sure people from different locations get to work with each other, as well as with team members from their own location. Inform the entire team of accomplishments of all the other team members, regardless of where they happen to be located. Every successful team has its own go-to people who are experts in certain areas. The distributed team develops its experts by distributing information about members’ skills and figuring out ways to work together remotely.
Finally, hold the members of a distributed team accountable for reaching out to their fellow teammates. It is the responsibility of every professional to gather resources needed for doing their work. That includes finding the right people to cooperate with, building good working relationships, and establishing effective communication. Whether local or remote, every member of a team needs to participate in the team if the team is to be productive and successful.