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Effective Distributed Teams Over-communicate

The project that I am currently working on just hired a developer in London. Toyin is the sole developer in the London office. She has a huge burden on her shoulders. Not only does she have to get up to speed on the project, she needs to establish working relationships with the business folks in the office that have never had direct access to a developer. She also needs to hit the ground running providing value on a project that is having some logistical problems.

It is a tall order made even more difficult by having an ocean and several time zones between the team.

With these obstacles, we can’t take anything for granted. It is far to easy to slip in to the background while decisions are being made on this side of the pond. Out of sight; out of mind, if you will. So, we have made a concentrated effort to over-communicate with Toyin.

Technology is big help when trying to keep communication flowing and open. Conference bridges, Office Communicator desktop sharing, Jira with Green Hopper, TeamCity and a Confluence all help to keep our team assets digital and easily consumable no mater where the developer is physically located.

Toyin’s first week was actually spent here in Seattle. A whole week was spent sitting face to face with the voices she will be attempting to work with remotely. Our morning stand ups are held over a conference bridge. We held a meeting earlier this week with the project development team for the sole purpose of allowing Toyin to ask questions. And just this morning, Toyin and I had a two hour remote pairing session via Office Communicator.

All of this emphasis on over-communicating with Toyin is bearing fruit. She is asking questions; sometimes pointed. She has started to bring the London office’s concerns to the stand up. It feels like Toyin is a part of the team actively participating.

By going to extremes to include Toyin in the process, we have gained an active, productive team member who happens to be on another continent. Not just another faceless resource we send grunt work to via email.

3 responses to “Effective Distributed Teams Over-communicate

  1. Eric Lee April 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Good post. Communication is the key but it’s really hard work, too. The trick is now that you have all this communication with your remote member, you have to keep doing it effectively over the long term. I’d like to hear how things are going in three or four months.

  2. Mark Simpson April 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Great idea to build up a good “buffer” of communication – and especially to start it face-to-face. I think my (soon to be former) team could have done better by building up communication like this to start with. Instead we’ve become, i feel, a bunch of people in Boston, two in LA, and one in NY – not a _TEAM_.

    But don’t get me started on “Team” vs. “group of people working together”… 🙂

    Good luck, I’m sure you can make this, and keep making this, work.

  3. Christina April 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    This is a very good example of making communication work. I feel that, by going to such lengths to include Toyin, you are building not only effective practices, but an excellent working relationship. Distance, while I do realize could cause difficulties, won’t be so much of a factor since you have already done quite well with efficient and quite well orchestrated communication. Best of luck!

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