Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 45;   November 6, 2002: Dispersity Adversity

Dispersity Adversity

by

Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.

When Marilyn heard, "Earth calling Marilyn, come in please," she suddenly realized that she'd been staring blankly at the Gantt chart. The wall-sized Gantt chart. The hopelessly outdated wall-sized Gantt Chart. Her mind had wandered.

The world"Marilyn here. Over," she replied. "So how do you think it happened?"

Phil was stumped too. "It's a puzzle, isn't it? Project of the Year to red-listed in three months. That chart is just expensive wallpaper now — actually, I kinda like it for the men's room."

"You would. But really…why is this project so different?"

As they talked, they kept returning to their decision not to use local talent. Back when they couldn't even get approval for contractors, they'd decided to use the Wellington people, who were 2000 miles away. And then, three weeks later, they added the two European teams. That made the score: time zones 4, languages 3, continents 2. They had had no choice…after September 11, travel became impractical, even when it was allowed.

Marilyn and Phil are struggling with managing a geographically dispersed team.

If you haven't had that experience, imagine a little four-month experiment.

People work better together
when they know each other
First month
Replace all team meetings with teleconferences. Visiting a teammate's office is not permitted. Use the phone or interdepartmental mail instead.
Second month
Continue as last month, and eliminate hallway conversation. Use snail mail or overnight delivery instead of interdepartmental mail.
Third month
Continue as last month, but limit telephone conferences to three per week, at 7 AM or 11 PM. All other communication is by fax or email. Team members may not lunch together.
Fourth month
Continue as last month, but now in-person meetings are permitted — provided they are held at least a full day's journey away by air.

After four months, you'll understand a little of what a dispersed team deals with — if you still have a project left.

Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams:

People work better when they know each other
What we don't know, we make up, and what we make up is often scary. When we know each other — even a little — we like each other better.
Have an in-person kickoff meeting
An in-person kickoff meeting is essential, because people have to know each other before they can trust each other. Leave plenty of free time for socializing.
Face-to-face meetings are necessary
People need to meet face-to-face once in a while. It's the way we're made. Budget for it.
Count on trouble
Communications are more problematic the more remote they are. Face-to-face is safer than phone is safer than email is safer than fax is safer than overnight mail is safer than silence.
Get training in video, email, and phone
Since we aren't born knowing how to conduct a videoconference, we need training to do it well. Training in email and teleconferencing is also helpful.

Using a dispersed team might be a way around the bureaucratic constraints, but it isn't cheap, because you need budget for travel and training. Most important: go slow. It takes time to prevent (and sort out) communication mix-ups. Go to top Top  Next issue: High Falutin' Goofy Talk  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

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We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
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Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?

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Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

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