On communication within a distributed team

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A team can be distributed in many different ways, one of the biggest differentiating factors being the distance between team members, wether they are located in different cities, countries, but most important: different time zones.

While time difference has some very positive side effects, like making it possible to reach 24h/day coverage without actually asking people to work at night, it also happens to be one of the biggest changes to adjust to, as some team members’ working hours may only overlap shortly, or not at all.

Enters: async communication.

Which tools you use doesn’t really matter, almost any communication tool can be converted to work asynchronously, what matters is changing expectations, and accept the idea that your messages won’t get an immediate answer, but a delayed one, most of the time.

The adjustments you need to make to get that to work properly are actually very beneficial to your team, way beyond their initial goal, and could be adopted by most classic teams working locally.

The end of interruptions

Once it’s been established that messages, even through so called “instant messaging” systems don’t have to get an immediate reply, it becomes much easier for any team member to ignore them while they are focused on a specific task, then come back and reply once the task has been performed. Any developer, for instance, knows too well how powerful being able to concentrate is, and how high the cost of interruptions. Stop interrupting.

Respect your team.

The end of bottlenecks

Do you like feeling useful? Do you think that you need to take part to every decision? Every process? Do you fear to be replaceable?

Guess what, in. Distributed setup, if you channel all communication through yourself, you will fail even faster than in a classic setup.

It’s not about being a bottleneck anymore, it’s about completely freezing your team ability to make any progress. Unless you are ready to work 24/7, most decisions will need to be made while you are asleep.

Define clear areas of responsibility, trust your staff to make the right decisions. Enable direct communication channels between team mates that do not transit through you.

Empower your team.

Photo: ‘World Map with America’ by adampadam used under CC BY-NC-SA / Cropped

2 Comments on “On communication within a distributed team

  1. Reblogged this on Simon Ouderkirk and commented:
    My colleague Paolo reflects on how communication works within a distributed team, and the import of removing yourself (and your ego!) from the bottleneck process.

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