We can significantly enhance the effectiveness of distributed and remote teams in their collaborations by applying as many ‘best practices’ related to working with distributed teams as possible and practical. Erin Meyer also notes in the The Culture Map

“Multicultural teams need low context processes”

Erin tells us this is because diverse teams have many opportunities to encounter cultural miscues; we remove much of the conflict potential by explicitly agreeing on how we plan to do things as a team. With these two considerations in mind, I will share my top 8 ‘best practices’ for working with distributed teams

1.   Training & ramp up – Ensure everyone has what they need to succeed, including time and support to adapt to new tools or processes that will be put in place as a result of the remote work. Make all new/revised processes as explicit (low context) as possible. Make it safe and easy to ask for help when needed and provide avenues for feedback to be shared so new processes related to working remote may be fine-tuned to meet unique needs of different team members based on role, location, home environment etc. (see #6) 

2.   Create a “One Team” dynamic – This a known best practice of working with distributed teams. Seek out as many opportunities as possible to break down the barriers of team communications using daily video conferencing, virtual team scrums and common email distribution lists. Build shared awareness of the needs and news from each unique location/contributor. Use virtual chat tools instead of long email threads to foster active collaboration. Acknowledge team victories, both large and small. Find ways to have fun!

3.   Defining Communications – In addition to using communications to help instill a strong ‘one team’ dynamic, be thoughtful on when, what and how information is shared, and by whom.  Define how team progress will be reported and challenges shared, for example. Special tip: important news (good or bad) is best delivered in person; using video conferencing is the next best option but follow up in writing to reinforce any key messages plus also offer a safe avenue for follow up questions to be raised.  Default to ‘over-information’ as a rule but try not to overwhelm the team with unnecessary project details.

4.   Building relationships – A typical best practice is to travel to your peers’ locations to understand what it is like to work in the ‘remote’ location. When that is not possible, the next best option might be to book virtual ‘coffee dates’ or virtual ‘lunch and learn together’ sessions.    As leaders, continue to schedule regular 1:1 meetings with your direct reports and avoid making these meeting about reporting work status.

5.   Setting Expectations – Be sure everyone on the team is clear on “What, How and Why” – aligning on team goals requires thoughtful, low context processes across all areas of business. Strive to be explicit and document how progress and team performance will be measured and reported, how risks will be identified and managed etc. In other words, clarify What Good Looks Like related to that ‘What and Why”.  Use your 1:1 meetings and team scrums to explore these topics, and answer any team questions. Distribute meeting agendas to attendees in advance of virtual meetings and provide an advance opportunity to reflect on meeting goals and ask question or offer feedback.

6.   Be flexible & adaptable – As teams learn to work in new ways, hold mini reviews/post mortems regularly to share, assess and react to what you are learning, while collectively seeking opportunities to better leverage strengths and deal with weak points related to team collaborations.  Seek to be okay with ‘exceptions to the rule’ if the team’s goals and values are not being compromised.

7.   Talent Management – When working with remote and distributed teams, applying a consistent framework of ‘managing for results’ becomes even more critical for leaders; ensure to provide regular, constructive feedback, praise and support specific to the goals of the business and the expectations which have been set for individual and/or team performance. Consider cultural needs and preferences when determining how to approach this for individual team members.

8.   Culture Matters! Cultural Intelligencealso known as CQ, helps us collaborate effectively with those different from ourselves, clarifying the skills and providing a framework to support a strategic approach for increased effectiveness in all our multicultural interactions. By developing CQ skills in leaders and teams we realize significantly increased engagement, innovation and productivity, whether collaborating remotely or working in the same building.

What are your top best best practices for working with distributed teams? Do you already use some of those I listed above? Please consider sharing in comments below!

Original article on linkedin

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