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agile,tools & methods

7 Ways to Humanize the Distributed Team Experience

If you are involved in a distributed software team, chances are you know just how difficult it is to create personal connections. This is especially true in larger organizations where team members are geographically dispersed around the world and rarely (if ever) meet face to face in person.

I placed the emphasis this problem recently during my talk on distributed agile. My audience received, perhaps unexpectedly, a heavy dose of organizational culture from me instead of “here’s the 1000 different tools you can use” speech.

My message was simple, team members are not resources or metrics, and we should not treat them as such.

I felt the need to build upon that talk. As a result, here are my 7 tips for a sustainable and healthy distributed team experience:

1. Use Video Chat - It is much easier to create a personal connection when you can see one another. Facilitation relies a great deal on body language, and with today’s cheap video technology there aren’t many excuses on why you cannot use it. Involve stakeholders so they can put faces to their team.

2. Establish Trust With Retrospectives – These are a great way to lay a foundation of trust with your distributed team. It can be difficult to pull everyone together as a cohesive team image, but these will help tremendously if held on a regular basis. You can mix them up and have fun with them by using a product like Innovation Games.

3. Refrain from Jokes – Snarky comments and jokes, while funny you to, do not translate well to other cultures. It is best to keep these to yourself when communicating with your distributed team.

4. Organize Team Outings – It can be difficult to secure enough money to fly everyone in for a get together, so instead try to organize events close to your team members. For example schedule a bowling night for each location.

5. Split Up Lengthy Meetings – Distributed teams often have smaller windows of overlap with regards to office hours. Be aware of this and split the day long planning sessions into multiple parts over a few days. Yes it’ll slow things down a bit, but you won’t be keeping team members from their families.

6. Try Virtual Pairing - Team members often produce great software when they physically pair on a computer. Just because you are in different locations doesn’t mean you cannot pair over the web. Skeptical? Go read up on the efforts over at Industrial Logic.

7. Avoid Metric Obsession- Distributed teams risk being perceived as a faceless velocity viewed through agile lifecycle management software. Continue to stress the importance of the people behind the metrics to those who miss out on the team interactions.

Unfortunately as more companies offshore/nearshore software development, it is an emerging trend to treat people in a very inhumane manner. We need to be aware of the people behind the screens, and hopefully by using these techniques we will help humanize the distributed team experience.

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