How to Manage Communications with Distributed Teams

Over the year's, I've managed projects that had resources stationed in various parts of the world. There were developers in India, vendors in Europe and stakeholders within the United States. There were only a couple of hours of overlap between the teams so I needed to get creative with how I communicated with the teams. Below, I share some ideas to overcome this challenging aspect of Project Management.

Empower Others

If your development team is in India you will still need status as to how the development is going but also allow the tech team to talk about issues that came up. Since the entire tech team is located in India you can empower the business analyst to run those calls. There's no reason to wait until Eastern Time in the United States to have a tech discussion. Just meet with the business analyst during the US time zone to attain status rather than having everyone from the India team waiting until late night to have a tech discussion.

Leverage this process to try and group resources from common geographic areas. Make sure someone is empowered to lead that group and get back to you with status. This expectation should be established at the beginning of the project.

Make sure the Meetings Scheduled Make Sense

Since you will have people either staying up late or working early, you need to give them a good reason to attend your calls. Establish a clear agenda for each call and provide linkage to the appropriate documentation.

If you plan on having recurring meetings, set a clear communication plan with the participants early in the project. You want to include only critical SME's from each geographic area who can report status as well as provide feedback if any technical discussion is required.

Teach Others to Communicate Effectively

Sometimes there are cultures that have a more timid style than those from other countries. If this happens you need to set expectation on how people should communicate. For example, if there is an urgent item that a resource needs to follow up on it is not enough that they just send an email and wait for a response. If the other person doesn't follow up, they must become a pest and IM that resource.

Also, it must be coached that sending IM's that repetitively say: "Hi, Daniel" are not enough. Sending an IM should involve a greeting immediately followed by a question. For example: "Hi, Daniel. Did Joseph get back to you with the data mapping document? As a reminder, we need this end of day."

Sometimes, if the recipient only sees "Hi, Daniel" as an IM ping, they may be too busy to immediately respond and they may be waiting for you to type a follow-up IM with the actual question. If they don't see it, they'll assume you had no question.

In conclusion, managing distributed teams is a challenging proposition but not an impossible one. If clear expectations are made regarding communication this will help avoid any ambiguity.

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