Dispersed teams have members scattered across a country, region or the globe. In the humanitarian and development aid sector, dispersed teams are becoming commonplace, but learning to manage and lead them is a challenge of culture, technology and time zones. The Center for Creative Leadership offers advice to team leaders, supervisors and managers faced with organizing, leading and motivating these far flung groups of people. In addition, People In Aid provide a distant management workshop to support help managers develop their teams successfully.
Launching the Team. The long-term viability of dispersed teams depends on how well leaders prepare. Pre-launch preparation can make the difference between failure and success.
It may be useful to ask these questions :
• What best practices do the team exhibit and how can they best be utilized and built on ?
• Are lower-level employees allowed to make their own decisions ?
• Are HR policies in place to deal with recognizing and rewarding both individual members and the whole team, and equally...
• ... policies to help expatriates and others working from a distance deal with feelings of isolation, not being included etc?
• Do you provide and support stable, user-friendly communication technology at every site where team members work ? Webcams and similar technology vastly improve dispersed team performance and sense of belonging
• Will the organization help identify potential team members who are motivated, self-managing, comfortable with technology and the dispersed environment, with project management and communication skills?
The First Meeting. You can’t overstate the importance of a dispersed team’s first meeting. Separated by time, distance and culture there’s only a brief period to clarify goals, build relationships and secure commitment. Because of this, the teams first meeting should be face-to-face. Members who have met in person are more likely to have less disagreements and conflicts about personal issues between team members – a boon to ongoing performance and productivity.
Two points to carefully consider:
1)Take time zones into account. If you can’t avoid asking a member to attend in the middle of their night arrange a schedule so that this inconvenience is rotated amongst team members. (2)Social status, culture and language ability may make it difficult for some team members. Make sure from the outset the team understand that everyone is expected to contribute.
Communication. Dispersed teams require greater amounts of information and more frequent communication that local teams. Leaders need to direct special attention to both formal and informal communication. Teams need to know WHEN to communicate and HOW to communicate. Design a way for the team to document and store information so that it can create a team history.
Membership and trust:
Experienced leaders of dispersed teams use several tactics to create a sense of belonging. Keep the team informed of organizational changes, and ask the team for input + Make time for team-building activities (on line). Encourage personal contact + Hold face-to-face meetings whenever you can.