Leading Dispersed Team – An Art or Science or a piece of Luck in your journey of excellence

Dispersed teams have members who are not in the same place, they come from different countries, cultures and time zones. Simply out, a dispersed team brings out elements where human-technology interactions, teamwork and communication among people separated by time, culture and distance. Dispersed teams have started to gain importance in organizations because of influence of international markets.

Coordinating the efforts of team members across differences and at the same time maintaining and boosting team effectiveness make up the challenge of leading a dispersed team
By default all successful teams need to be well designed, that would include purpose of the team, building project management expertise, defining clear roles, setting clear and crisp direction towards completing the work as planned or assigned.

Team work and trust both are important facets of building a great team and dispersed team is no alien to this concept.

Some elements to be taken into account would include:

  1. Keep the team informed of long-term organizational changes
  2. Ask the team for input on critical organizational issues
  3. Encourage personal contact and communication among all team members
  4. Hold face to face meetings (as much as possible and where required – Not do compromise

 

Dispersed teams require more direct and careful maintenance than local teams to reach their potential, for example one advantage of dispersed team would be working around the clock and thereby serve the customer with a greater degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Dispersed teams can be a richer source of innovation than a local team, Insights from team members / colleagues around the globe brings new dimensions to the work, influence how the product would be developed and delivered to the client.

Dispersed team should be encourages to:

  • Learn new communication approaches and technologies
  • Get exposed to new ideas and learning methods
  • Learn about different cultures
  • Develop capability to resolve problems in a 24 x 7 model

 

There is decent amount of challenges in managing a dispersed team:

  • Becomes more difficult to schedule common meetings
  • Identify overlapping hours
  • Robust infrastructure problems in effective communication
  • Members do not feel aligned to Org goals
  • Members feel or have not authority for decision making, too much politicking with internal stakeholders
  • Overall project management would be difficult

When launching a dispersed team, take care of the following:

  1. Assess the readiness of the organization to work with dispersed teams
  2. Create a goal / vision – communicate the vision
  3. Kick off with a face to face meeting (a take photograph and share it with the team)
  4. Plan how communication and Information sharing would happen
  5. Usage of standard tools and techniques
  6. Define cadence for meetings and other schedules
  7. Are there HR policies in place to deal with dispersed teams
  8. Kind of infrastructure required for effective communications
  9. Plan PTOs
  10. Identify local holidays and events and plan for them in the cadence
  11. Give authority for local decision making
  12. Are lower level employees empowered for decision making?
  13. Define approaches for conflict resolution
  14. Regularly recommend a get together of the whole team
  15. Approach to introduce new member to the team? – The How part?
  16. Develop guidelines for conflict management – Remember it is not one size that fits all
  17. Make space for cultural differences, respect all local rules of the game (still keeping the big picture in mind and view)
  18. Ensure you appoint a team member across location for logistics coordination / technology coordinator

Identification of team members to work in dispersed teams:

  • Team member would be willing work in a team environment
  • Are good self-starters and are self-directed
  • Are highly motivated
  • Have tolerance for the unexpected
  • Are open to experimentation
  • Are curious and exploratory
  • Seek out relevant information
  • Are willing to learn and un-learn
  • Are willing to play multiple roles (when the demand arises)
  • Are careful listeners
  • Are risk takers
  • Can build upon ideas of others
  • Enjoy working collaboratively

There is no standard recipe for a successful dispersed team, one would have to inspect and adapt, Issues will be there, it is how you respond to these issues, that will make or break a dispersed team concept successful or …

Advertisements

My grand daughter, who is 5 year old, operates my Samsung note better than me. Contemplating on why is it so – I spend almost couple of hours on note everyday myself – I realized that what makes her better is her childlike curiosity.

This curiosity to learn something new, day after day, every day.   When was the last time you learnt something new?  When was the last time you took a conscious step towards self-development? Curiosity to learn something must be backed by an innate desire to improve oneself, to become the best version of ourselves. It is the only way to remain relevant in the hyper-competitive markets today.

The same concept should be applied in the Agile projects, we are always running after getting the user stories done and churned out for the product owner. Yes, this is required, but one should step back and take a different view, are we learning anything new, have we added value to our existing knowledge base, are we much better skilled as compared to the start of the sprint, can we proclaim that we now know a trick or two.

When speak of adding value to our customers, shouldn’t we not add value to ourselves, as we are the first customers to ourselves

We always talk and speak about the improvement in velocity and team work, that cannot happen automatically, the organization needs to invest in this area, by providing and allowing a time-box element to each and every member of the team, I recommend a time-box of 5-10% of the sprint time allocated to each team member of the development team (on a different thought, it should include the scrum master and the product owner also). If the sprint cycle is 2 weeks (10 days = 80 hrs.), then the minimum time-box would be 4 hrs. / sprint to a maximum of 8 hrs. / sprint.

Organization should be aware that providing this time to learning and development will reduce the velocity in near term, but there would be major impact in terms of quality, knowledge gain, productivity improvements, team collaboration.

This time allocation should be used by the team members to improve their skills in any area of their interest, which would ultimately help the product to develop and grow better and thereby improve the required velocity. It should be the task allocated to the Scrum Master to ensure that all the team members are using this time-boxed element in the most productive way. One also needs to understand that a Scrum master would also be required to improve and master the skills that are important to the role that he / she is playing to.

Each sprint , the team should have a dedicated time and name it as – ‘Learning with Agility’.
• Define a dedicated time slot. It would be a good idea to have a time slot of 4 hrs planned in the early part of the sprint cycle in week 2
• This week, every sprint, learn a new thing – pick up a functional skill from a colleague, or improve the product knowledge, master an automation tool, learn new elements of coding (do a little unsaid spike)
• learn about a behavioural skill

Learning is not about mastering the hard skills, it includes all those elements that make you a better team member, a team player and more so a better person

Your learning is in your hands and you are the product owner of the product that is you. Take advantage of the fact that you spend 8 hours every day most of the week in an organization that promises you learning opportunities. You have, at your fingertips, access to a whole host of behavioural learning through social media , hundreds of thousands of articles in web, , ride the huge wave of Massive Online Open Courses with the many courses that are available online freely – make use of all these resources to better yourself today.

The above mentioned are but a few of the avenues for learning. Such platforms are present everywhere – the internet, libraries, even in day-to-day interactions with colleagues, it’s you who has to take the first step.

At the risk of re-iterating, I’d say again – that the onus of your learning lies with you. No one can help develop you but you yourself. This week and for the ones to come, promise yourself a week full of rich learning.

The day you stop learning, is the day you stop practising Agile ….. So Learn each day and be agile every moment