Working in geographically distributed teams

The Community Corner platform is designed for collaboration. A study we read recently offers additional insight into best practices for online teams. After examining 13 different teams that work with members distributed in various locations, researchers found:

Members working in different locations do not fully appreciate or share the situations each is facing.
Electronic messages often contain multiple items. The importance of each item is considered differently by members of distributed teams.
Most disturbing to the researchers was the finding that team members had different access to information. Private emails and only partial distributions distorted the overall picture of what was going on.
Multiple interpretations of silence – consent, dislike of confrontation, lack of ability to express disagreement, etc.
Cumulative impact of above was to judge remote members ‘quickly and harshly’.


Create a shared electronic place. Include pictures, deadlines, times away, equipment and software used, travel times, lead times required,  hours most accessible, alternative ways to reach each other.
Draw direct attention to items needing immediate response from everyone vs. ones in which response is needed from specific person(s).
Create a common shorthand that makes it easy to understand the status of an item.
Copy all members of the team on communications.
Make it clear who is getting this only on an FYI basis.
Make no assumptions on silence. Use the phone to find out what it really means.
Meet face to face regularly if possible to get a personal understanding of each other

Our own experience shows that online team leadership and relationship development takes practice and encouragement. There are several team-work tools within the Community Corner which overcome communication difficulties when used well. Team members may need introduction to the mechanics of their use as well as best practices before becoming comfortable. Unlike the email problem identified in the study, these tools provide a safe, shared space, and avoid lost messages and partial notifications. Showing people how to quickly respond and edit the response, if necesary, reduces anxiety.


About mielniczuk

Community, systems, design, collaboration, change, evidence, Intelligent Accountability(c)
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