Overcoming Challenges on Remote Teams: Part 3

March 29, 2011 -- Sal Silvester

In my last two posts, we tackled a few challenges that remote teams face. Part 1 was focused on getting your remote team aligned. Part 2 on building cohesion.

In this post we'll focus on process.

For remote teams to maximize their effectiveness, they need to have disciplined processes in place. Here are some ideas you might consider:

  • Establish a consistent routine for formal communications. This means having a regular meeting schedule and other systems in place to share information and coordinate initiatives. Make sure you are clear about the purpose of every meeting.
  • Create email standards. It's easy to get bogged down in email overwhelm. A simple method to help streamline email usage is to have standards that everyone can agree to. For example, anyone in the "to" line has actions to take as a result of the email; anyone in the "cc" line is just on for FYI purposes.
  • Implement the right meeting norms. For example, starting/ending meetings on time, having documents ready prior to the meeting, getting an agenda out to participants at least 24 hours in advance, calling in early to deal with the inevitable technology issues that conference call and webinar lines create, etc.
  • Clarify the purpose of EVERY discussion. Often times teams talk in circles because they never clarify the purpose of a conversation upfront. This is even more challenging on remote teams.
  • Utilize a step-by-step problem solving process. Teams continue to talk in circles when they don't follow a defined problem solving process. A simple 4-step process might include: (1) define the problem, (2) brainstorm about possibilities, (3) analyze the options, and (4) make a decision and evaluate its impact. On most teams, understanding the group's "personality" will help uncover blindspots that impact the problem solving process. For example, a team of fast-paced, results-oriented people often jump to solving problems and miss steps (2) and (4) in the process - brainstorming about possibilities and evaluating the impact of a decision to people, customers, business partners, etc.
  • Decide how you will decide prior to making a decision. Will it be unilateral? by consult? by vote? or by consensus? Separate dialogue from decision making and ensure everyone understands how a decision will be made prior to making it. This will result in less conflict and turmoil resulting from unspoken expectations about how a decision will be made.
  • Create clarity and accountability. At the end of meetings/calls, summarize decisions that were made, identify who has key action items, and determine what information needs to be shared with key stakeholders. Most of the time, teams end meetings without summarizing these key points. No wonder why communication breaks down so easily on remote teams.

Stay tuned for Part 4 where we'll discuss remote team leadership.

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