How to Take Advantage of Globally Dispersed IT Teams
With the increase in organizations either in the midst or at the planning stages of a digital transformation, the demands for developer talent have arguably never been higher. Just about every industry is going digital and realizing the value of having software development skills on hand.
As the president of Exadel Solutions, we offer outsourced tech talent, and I know developers, scrum masters and product owners are increasingly vital team members to the business. Hiring and retaining top tech talent is important for many companies affected by the talent gap. Tapping into the global tech talent pool also creates another challenge—that of the “dispersed team.” How can a company manage a team with one developer in Detroit, a tester in Toronto and a business analyst in Berlin? Below are some best practices shared in a recent Forbes article for getting the most out of a dispersed team, common hurdles and key indicators for success (and failure).
Dispersed versus Centralized Teams
First, let’s address some of the key differentiators of dispersed teams and centralized teams. One of the main characteristics that sets these two types of teams apart is that it’s not always possible to communicate during “normal” work hours on a dispersed team. A common challenge globally dispersed teams face is that at midday for a team based in the United States, a team based in Europe may not be available to resolve a bug or issue. It also makes having meetings between broadly distributed teams quite challenging, so expect to be extra flexible with availability (and be willing to hop on early morning or late-night video calls now and then).
Another common challenge for dispersed teams involves tool and process discipline. It’s generally much easier for centrally located teams to align around the same tools, just like it’s easier to communicate the benefits, train employees on the tooling and discuss metrics of success or areas for improvement. Centrally located teams can solve many problems with hallway conversations and physical colocation that dispersed teams simply cannot. Dispersed teams can address this by meeting at regular times, fulfilling documentation requirements and communicating (or even overcommunicating). You can help solve this problem by using video conferencing tools.
There are also a number of best practices you can employ to create a high-performing dispersed IT team.
Streamlined Tooling and Processes
One of the most helpful ways to unite dispersed IT teams is to use a single project management tool and a transparent process across the organization. Teams across the organization will be inclined to use the tools they are most comfortable with. While it can be easy to allow this to happen, it can be very difficult to scale and maintain consistent results if everyone is using a different tool. By sticking to one tool, even if it means a steeper learning curve at the beginning, you can ensure every team is better set up for long-term success. The same applies to processes—avoid having different processes across teams to keep everyone in line with the workflow that goes along with delivering software. Having commonality across tools and tactics will lead to better organizational alignment and a more streamlined development process.
Building a Strong Culture
The second tactic is less of a “hard” strategy and centers around rapport. Good team rapport requires team leadership to spend time thinking about how team members (including themselves) can easily connect with others. Teams should take time to talk about non-work topics, participate in online video games or other virtual competitions, connect in-person periodically, use video conferencing, and recognize team and individual successes publicly. All of these things are important in order for dispersed teams to build strong relationships when they don’t necessarily interact with or see each other in person on a day-to-day basis.
Challenges with Dispersed Teams
The first—and one of the most common—challenges of dispersed teams is cultural clashes or language barriers. Even if everyone in the company speaks the same language, there will be different dialects, accents and turns of phrase that might lead to confusion or misunderstandings. A lack of cross-team rapport can also impact an organization’s ability to produce. When teams don’t feel a sense of togetherness, it can lead to a lack of communication, which in turn leads to assumptions and usually bad business outcomes. In this sense, structured communication is critical—which is part of why scrum works so well for distributed teams.
Leadership Mistakes To Avoid
The first mistake leaders should avoid when it comes to hiring and managing dispersed teams is hiring the cheapest available talent. As is the case with almost everything, you get what you pay for. A big benefit of hiring developer talent from other countries is the potential cost savings, but be wary of going with the lowest bid.
Another common mistake is improperly delegating tasks and requirements to remote teams — especially when you use an “all or nothing” approach. Use dispersed team members as an appropriate resource, but try to avoid the temptation to give them every task. Similarly, it can be easy to fall into an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude and not give dispersed teams enough work.
Another common mistake is assuming that team rapport will just happen organically; it takes a lot of work and consideration to build team cohesiveness. It is also dangerous to assume that tools and processes automatically solve all problems. Teams can find loopholes and work around them without considering significant business objectives. Ensure that team members discuss, agree upon and adhere to processes and tooling decisions to help solve this challenge.
Globally dispersed teams seem to be more and more commonplace in today’s business environment. It is a simple truth that often the local talent pool is not deep enough to support the high demands of digital transformation. Fortunately, with the right strategies and attitude, dispersed teams can work for any organization.
This article was originally published in Forbes.