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 The hopelessly outdated wall-sized Gantt Chart.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.
"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. Top Next Issue
Is 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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More articles on Project Management:
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the
latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
- Emergency Problem Solving
- In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies
depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems
- Nepotism, Patronage, Vendettas, and Workplace Espionage
- Normally, you terminate or reassign team members who actually inhibit progress. Here are some
helpful insights and tactics to use when termination or reassignment is impossible.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Unresponsive Suppliers: II
- When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can
affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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