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How to Manage Communications with Distributed Teams

Updated: Feb 26

Projects may have resources located in various parts of the world. There may be developers in India, vendors in Europe, and stakeholders within the United States. Since there are only a couple of hours of overlap between these locations, how can a project manager ensure that the work gets done?


Empower Others


A project manager has to empower others to help get work done if the project is to be successful. The project manager cannot do everything on their own.


If the development team is in India the project manager 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 a possible strategy is to allow a project teammate also located in India to run those calls. This person becomes the focal for the India team.

There's no reason to wait until Eastern Time in the United States to have a tech discussion with the entire India team. The project manager can Just meet with the focal during the US time zone to attain status rather than having everyone from the India team wait until late at night to have a tech discussion.


This process can be leveraged 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 the focals you selected will have people either staying up late or working early, the project manager needs to give them a good reason to attend calls. The project manager needs to establish a clear agenda for each call and provide linkage to the appropriate documentation.


If recurring meetings are planned, the project manager sets a clear communication plan with the participants early in the project. Only critical SMEs from each geographic area can report status as well as provide feedback if any technical discussion is required. Of course, alternates can be defined if those SMEs are not available.


Teach Others to Communicate Effectively


Sometimes resources have a more timid style of communication than others. The project manager can help by setting expectations 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 IMs that only say: "Hi, Daniel" is 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 by 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 the actual question. If they don't see it, the assumption may be that there was 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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