You may never meet some of your team face-to-face.
A long time ago – before the days of videoconferencing, intranets, and email – teams generally needed to be in the same physical location in order to work effectively.
But those days are long gone.
Now, many of us work regularly with colleagues based in different buildings, cities, countries, and even continents. Team members may be in different time zones, speak different languages, and be part of different cultures.
One team may include any variety of circumstances. Some members may work in groups of two, three, or more in the same office, while others may work individually in separate offices or at home. You may see some team members every day, but you may rarely see others – or perhaps you've never even met them!
Regardless of how people are organized, managing a team that's spread out in many locations can present huge challenges, even for the most experienced bosses. How do you ensure that everyone feels they're treated fairly, if you see some team members much more than others? How can you prevent remote team members from feeling isolated? And how do you get all members to buy into the team's objectives and stay on track?
This article will help you answer these questions, and we'll give you the specific knowledge and tools necessary to keep a dispersed team unified and motivated.
When selecting people to work in a geographically dispersed team, choose individuals with the right qualities for this situation. Look for the following qualities:
With a geographically dispersed team, it's essential for members to unite around a common purpose. Everyone must agree to the team's goals.
Creating a team charter is an excellent way to achieve this. A team charter is a "roadmap" for your team. It ensures that all workers are focused on the right thing from the start.
You can use a team charter to state your team's mission, clearly define everyone's roles and responsibilities, identify key resources, and decide how the team operates. Team charters often use the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) to set goals and objectives.
Team charters can also be useful when an established team is in trouble. For example, the difficulties of working across several continents may create stress for your team, and members may lose their focus or work toward conflicting goals. A team charter can help get everyone back on track.
Have a strong communications strategy. This is especially important if your team members are in different time zones and speak different languages.
But make sure that the technologies you use – such as instant messaging, VoIP, and teleconferencing – are reliable. Frequent technology failures are frustrating for remote workers who can't easily pick up the phone if the video suddenly fails during a virtual meeting.
Read our article on Working in Virtual Teams for more guidance on this.
Whether you're creating a new team or integrating workers into an existing team, you need to be aware of team dynamics. Managing relationships between team members can be difficult enough within a shared office space, but it's even more challenging when workers are all over the country – or the world.
With remote workers, you don't have the advantage of watching body language for signs of trouble between team members. The same is true for managing the morale of individuals. How can you tell if remote workers are unhappy if you can't see them? Watch closely for warning signs such as these:
Most teams follow a "forming, storming, norming, performing" path from the time they're first created. Identify which stage your team is in, and apply some of our suggested tools to move your workers toward the performing stage.
Feedback is essential for team performance and morale, and it's particularly important in a geographically dispersed context.
Most people who work in an office environment enjoy occasional lunches or drinks with co-workers. And then there's the tradition of having cake for people's birthdays. These are all great team-bonding activities. Unfortunately, they obviously won't work with geographically dispersed teams! As a manager, be creative about ways to achieve team bonding if workers are physically separated.
Depending on budget, you may want to get your team together once a year – or more, if possible. How about a weekend away to do some team-building activities? If budgets are tight, however, you need alternatives. Here are some ideas:
Geographically dispersed teams can offer huge benefits – efficiency, cost savings, and the ability to choose team members with the best skills, regardless of their location. To make the team work well, choose the right team players, and ensure that you have strong communication technologies. Unite your team around a team charter, and communicate objectives clearly and frequently.
Give frequent, fair, and appropriate feedback to everyone, and make sure you're always available to your team members. Even if your team can't meet in person frequently, try to occasionally visit all of your remote team members so they know that they're valued.
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