Remote Team Communication

I wanted to share some thoughts on managing remote teams. I have worked with several remote teams and have learned things that have worked and things that have failed. The most important thing for effective remote teams is communication. You need regular communication beyond exchanging emails or posts on project boards. To build a team ethos or spirit takes work. Teams without an ethos or spirit are not going to be very productive. Members will just do the minimum needed to get by and will not go out of their way to help each other. This can easily come about when the only regular communication is by email. People need verbal communication to connect. Without building a connection, people will not be receptive to criticism or correction. I have found the regular use of Hangouts to be effective in building connections. Seeing people’s expressions is an important part of communication. That should happen on a weekly basis at the least. Doing daily standups (short 15 minute status meetings) using Hangouts has proven effective. Daily standups will also help teams organize and make plans for achieving goals.

It is also important to have non-work related communication among team members. This will help build bonds among team members. It will help people see the other team members as more than just a resource. To build a true team, team members need to invest in each other. An effective team will be a team of friends.

Another thing that will help build team ethos is getting the team together periodically. One thing I heard of another team doing is each year the team would take a one week vacation together. They would spend some time working together each day (2-4 hours) to help knit the team together, but would also have fun together. Having that time together in non-work activity helps build the connections that will make a happy lasting team.

Scott Dunn at TAP

Scott Dunn shared at our TAP (Tulsa Agile Practitioners) meeting this week. I really enjoyed the meeting. Scott conducted the meeting as a group discussion and not a presentation. He took topic suggestions from the group as well as covering items that he was passionate about.

The first topic covered was on group dynamics and handling conflict. One of the suggestions was using personality tests to understand the strengths and weaknesses of team members. It is important to balance teams. If everyone has the same strengths, you can develop biases and not work well because certain areas will get ignored. If you want to have healthy conflict in teams, you first need to spend time developing trust and respect in the team.

Another topic discussed was how to scale scrum. Since I am still new to scrum, I didn’t totally understand all the ideas presented. You have a scrum master that helps lead the team, but when there are several teams involved, you need to coordinate teams. Part of what is needed with multiple teams is maintaining consistency. That would be consistency in user interfaces and overall design. Signs of problems in scaling are seen when cross team problems start popping up.

During the discussion, Jason Knight shared a quote from a book (I missed the book name and author) – “Any fool can make money by ignoring maintenance.” I have seen this in person before. An environment like that is not going to keep good talented programmers around long. You need to keep up with technical debt and not let it accumulate and eventually cause major problems.

The final topic that Scott discussed was “What is the story of your life?” If someone made a movie of your life, what would the movie poster be? For most people this isn’t a possibility. You need to decide to make your life one that matters. This means you need to plan your life and not just react to things that come up. One acronym he shared was “G.R.O.W.”

G – goal – decide what you want for goals so you don’t go through life just reacting. Set a goal to make an impact.
R – reality – look at the reality of your life to see where you are now.
O – options – develop options to get from where you are to where you want to be.
W – walk it out – choose an option and execute.

This is what needs to be done to manage the story line of your life. The key is planning and not just reacting. I know I need to spend some time on “GROW”ing my life. This was a very thought provoking TAP meeting.