Managing Remote Teams Effectively

Unlike 2 decades ago, when many managers had teams based in the same location, the 21st century organisation provides team leaders with a new host of challenges and opportunities. With that in mind, this article looks at how IT managers can embrace this new operating model. There are many techniques and strategies that meet the challenges associated with virtual teams.

As an experienced IT professional working at either a mid-size or large company, you will now most likely be working with or managing an outsourced team. Whether it is locally with EDS, CSC or somewhere off-shore with Wipro and TCS, you may experience some of the common challenges.

Communication: The most common challenge boils down to difficulties in how and when to communicate. As the famous news reporter Edward R. Murrow said, “The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it”. In other words, just because we can send out hundreds of communications in a day via email it still does not prevent us from failing on a regular basis. If you are an IT manager facing communication challenges, we recommend that you:
– Hold regular, recurrent scheduled team communications
– Maintain strong, clear, central documentation for plans, communications, goals, performance expectations, and team structure
– Provide complete information to all team members to keep them involved
– Coach your team on the style of communication you’d like to receive
– Use a communication plan that shows the who, what, why, where, and when of team communications

Execution: As your team is spread across different locations, you will be met with a new set of challenges – particularly if you add the complexity of multiple time zones. Just try a long distance relationship and you will get the gist – it’s about as pleasant as bungee jumping with a steel wire. People’s mental energy levels are not at par at different times of the day. There will also be difficulty in understanding shared values, visions and plans. Finally, it is quite difficult to ensure a level of trust so that people who have never met you in person have the same personal connection as a team member sitting next to you. Some of the most effective mitigants to these problems include:
– Establishing clear roles & responsibilities
– Implementing simple measures that promote effective time utilisation (E.g. prior sharing of the agenda and objective of a meeting/teleconference)
– Identifying a single leader for the team, with complete accountability for success and failure
– Transferring key team members to different geographical locations in diverse roles when necessary
– Leveraging web-based project management & document management tools for centralised visibility

Remote teams are a key component of today’s global workplace, but the focus remains on people, process & execution. There are many strategies & tactics. Select the few that will make the greatest impact, and use them consistently.
In next month’s newsletter we will look at how to mitigate issues around Performance Management and Team Cohesion with a Remote team.

Part 2

Last month we wrote about strong communication and effective execution as being instrumental in working successfully with teams remotely. In this month’s issue we will look at performance management and team cohesion and how you need to influence them to be more successful in outsourcing or offshoring.

Performance management as defined by Wikipedia, is the process of assessing progress toward achieving predetermined goals. Performance management is building on that process, adding the relevant communication and action on the progress achieved against these predetermined goal… Simply put, performance management helps organizations achieve their strategic goals So lets review the various aspects of performance management
Measuring performance: Has your business set goals for the year, and do your objectives align with them? Furthermore, your individual team members should be working on projects/tasks that can be measured and align to your organizations objectives
Confronting performance issues:
When you have a team member that is not performing, do you have the right processes to help them get back on track? If you are managing a 3rd party team, you should have contracts in place that ensures that your service provider will quickly replace or improve under-performing resources.
Giving feedback:
– Situational: It is clear on where and when with specific facts
– Customised: Message is tailored for individual and goes in line with their work and communication
– Meaningful: 2 or 3 examples so team member completely understands scenario
– Actionable: Specific measurable goals than everyone can follow up on
When there’s no direct management influence: You may feel that you have little control over resources within the outsourcer. In reality you can have a great deal of influence. Build strong relationships with senior managers for escalation purposes, and through leadership a strong foundation of trust with resources doing the daily execution.

Team cohesion really refers to your daily operating rhythm:
– Team building, one on one meetings, when possible face to face kick offs / work outs
– Invest time in building relationships, not just supervising task execution
– Special focus on milestone events: Kickoff, delivery, closure
– Develop a culture of consensual decision-making, with the leader arbitrating differences of opinion
– Hold regular video-conferences at different levels
– Build a team identity across your internal and outsourced resources
– Make your team a marketing engine for attracting and retaining top talent within the outsourcer

In summary, as highlighted in the June newsletter we have looked at how you can influence and increase the number of successful deliveries leveraging an IT outsourced and offshore model through improved team cohesion, implementing clear guidelines for performance management, having regular and open communication, and a developing a culture focused on execution and delivery. These tools & methods are no longer nice-to-haves for the 21st century manager but a necessity for any successful leader who wants to execute successfully with an outsourcer.