March 5, 2012 Leave a comment
In the modern-day global village, the days of cohabitated or locally performed meetings are becoming a thing of the past. As companies expand their influence and portfolios into other regions and countries, project teams can become dispersed not merely by distance, but by time zones, cultural differences and language barriers.
These conditions are now the status quo for any large corporation that functions in multiple countries and across continents. It is not merely the case of a small sales office in a given region servicing a local sales channel, but technical functions serving a broader project. More often than not, a project manager will be required to deal with individuals in remote offices or functioning in a 100% telecommuting capacity.
This sort of situation, where individuals are disparately located, presents a unique challenge to the project manager. Not only does he/she need to be mindful of maintaining active engagement with individuals located in different areas, it is also paramount that the project manager fosters an environment whereby these dispersed individuals can still function effectively and produce deliverables in a collaborative fashion.
With that being said, here are some key ideas and suggestions with regards to dealing with geographically disparate teams:
Meet Weekly Via Teleconference
Since team members are not located in the same region, it is important to ensure that you schedule at least one meeting per week where all team members can speak to each other via a teleconference system of some sort. This will, at least somewhat, create an atmosphere whereby users feel like they are cohabitated. It will also produce a scenario whereby dialog can be discussed openly in a general forum, so that ideas can be shared and any issues discussed. Try to keep meetings of this nature both professional but also casual. Remember that these team members may not have much interaction with each other except for these meetings, so try to ensure that all team members are given a voice.
Utilize Video Conferencing When Possible
In addition to using the teleconference (phone) for your weekly meetings, if it is inherently possible, try to leverage video conferencing if it is available. Many messenger systems available today (Yahoo Instant Messenger, Cisco Telepresence, etc) are a fantastic way for disparately located team members to get to see and react to their peers. Video conferencing can be a fantastic way of breaking down the demographic barriers that may exist for disparately located teams. If it is possible, try to leverage this type of system where the technology permits. Not only is video conferencing software a good way to allow team members to see each other, it also generally comes with features that allow for white boarding and other forms of collaborative viewing and editing of shared documents or files.
Acquire Weekly Status
While the project manager will likely have ways to monitor the progress of various items being addressed by the team members, asking for a weekly status report is also a good way to maintain a more direct channel of communication with remote team members. Now many individuals working on a project are generally not keen on writing reports indicating what they worked on during that week, so its important to provide a condense and terse template that the resource can use to indicated what work has been performed and what is left to do. Also, within the template, provide an area that allows the resource to give general feedback, such as outlining any issues that have arrived. The simplest template would be comprised of three simple questions:
- What work was completed?
- What are you working on next?
- Any issues that need addressing?
Utilize Social Networking Software
In addition to the various teleconferencing and video conferencing software options the project manager has at his/her disposal, there are other ways to get the team members to communicate with each other. Social networking tools, such as Salesforce Chatter, Microsoft SharePoint or even home-grown wikis and discussion boards can provide an outstanding way for team members to communicate and keep running threads of their discussion items. While email is good, it is not quite as publishable and separate threads can often get buried or lost. A single, web-based social networking system provides a single access point that users can always view to get feedback or status on any discussion items. The project manager can also leverage the system proactively to ensure they are also giving feedback on the holistic overview of the project. Meeting minutes, PowerPoint decks used in presentations and graphs of project progress can all be published on these sites for review by any member of the team or interested stakeholder.
Perform Duplicate Meetings to Accommodate Timezone Issues
In certain instances, timezone differences for some team members may make it basically impossible to have one, functioning meeting where all team members can meet via teleconference or video conference. This can happen if the team crosses many regions and a single, adequate time slot to accommodate all is just impossible. In those cases, it is up to the project manager to perform additional meetings for team members that cannot attend the defacto meeting. He/she can then act as a proxy between team members to ensure all discussion items and project status has been adequately disseminated between the members of the team. Note that in this circumstance, it is extremely important to try to leverage the aforementioned social networking software. Team members that are able to access one, single point of communication will not get the feeling of being ‘left out’ of the discussion.
Dealing with disparately located teams is a fact of life for the modern day project manager. It requires a unique set of skills to be able to handle various geographies and social barriers in order to foster a functioning, cohesive team. Use the aforementioned tools and techniques as much as possible. It will make your life a lot easier and give the highest possibility of success for the project as a whole.