Outsourcing software development teams have become a fact of business life, so what does it take to make them work effectively? Here are ten basic principles for making this happen:
1.) Meet with the team early on
It may seem paradoxical to say in a post on virtual teams, but face-to-face communication is still better than virtual when it comes to building relationships and fostering trust, an essential foundation for effective teamwork. If you can’t do it, it’s not the end of the world (focus on doing some virtual team building). But if you can get the team together, use the time to help team members get to know each other better, personally and professionally, as well to create a shared vision and a set of guiding principles for how the team will work. Schedule the in-person meeting early on, and reconnect regularly (semi-annually or annually) if possible.
2.) Clarify tasks and processes, not just goals and roles.
All new leaders need to align their team on goals, roles and responsibilities in the first 90 days. With virtual teams, however, coordination is inherently more of a challenge because people are not co-located. So it’s important to focus more attention on the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them. Simplify the work to the greatest extent possible, ideally so tasks are assigned to sub-groups of two or three team members. And make sure that there is clarity about work process, with specifics about who does what and when. Then periodically do “after-action reviews” to evaluate how things are going and identify process adjustments and training needs.
3.) Commit to a communication charter.
A Communication Charter is a formal document that outlines your team’s preferred communication methods. It helps to reduce unnecessary messages, saves people time, and improves the focus and efficiency of both team and individual communication. Communication on virtual teams is often less frequent, and always is less rich than face-to-face interaction, which provides more contextual cues and information about emotional states — such as engagement or lack thereof. The only way to avoid the pitfalls is to be extremely clear and disciplined about how the team will communicate. Create a charter that establishes norms of behavior when participating in virtual meetings, such as limiting background noise and side conversations, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace, listening attentively and not dominating the conversation, and so on. The charter also should include guidelines on which communication modes to use in which circumstances, for example when to reply via email versus picking up the phone versus taking the time to create and share a document.
4.) Leverage the best communication technologies.
Developments in collaborative technologies — ranging from shared workspaces to multi-point video conferencing — unquestionably are making virtual teaming easier. However, selecting the “best” technologies does not necessarily mean going with the newest or most feature-laden. It’s essential not to sacrifice reliability in a quest to be on the cutting edge. If the team has to struggle to get connected or wastes time making elements of the collaboration suite work, it undermines the whole endeavor. So err on the side of robustness. Also be willing to sacrifice some features in the name of having everyone on the same systems. Otherwise, you risk creating second-class team members and undermining effectiveness. Dev team won’t be successful without communicating with the other team members, since, they need to collaborate in doing their different roles and projects. Here are some list of tools that you can use in communicating with your dev team:
5.) Build a team with rhythm.
When some or all the members of a team are working separately, it’s all-too-easy to get disconnected from the normal rhythms of work life. One antidote is to be disciplined in creating and enforcing rhythms in virtual team work. This means, for example, having regular meetings, ideally same day and time each week. It also means establishing and sharing meeting agenda in advance, having clear agreements on communication protocols, and starting and finishing on time. If you have team members working in different time zones, don’t place all the time-zone burden on some team members; rather, establish a regular rotation of meeting times to spread the load equitably.
6.) Agree on a shared language.
Virtual teams often also are cross-cultural teams, and this magnifies the communication challenges — especially when members think they are speaking the same language, but actually are not. The playwright George Bernard Shaw famously described Americans and the British as “two nations divided by a common language.” His quip captures the challenge of sustaining shared understanding across cultures. When the domain of team work is technical, then the languages of science and engineering often provide a solid foundation for effective communication. However, when teams work on tasks involving more ambiguity, for example generating ideas or solving problems, the potential for divergent interpretations is a real danger. Take the time to explicitly negotiate agreement on shared interpretations of important words and phrases, for example, when we say “yes,” we mean… and when we say “no” we mean…and post this in the shared workspace.
7.) Create a “virtual water cooler.”
To be part of the remote team could be a hard one, you will have busy days working with projects or any other works that you need to fill in. That’s why the water cooler is important in the dev team. Water cooler is where you can take a break and of course, hydrate. It could be anywhere in the office, where you can reconnect and deal with your co team members. Sometimes, some of the best discussions take place around the water cooler and ideas are coming up on the spot. This water cooler is an important part of any company’s culture and crucial to your employees feeling like a team, even if they are not working on the same project together. Creating virtual space for your remote team, you can already check them and contribute to the conversation. It is a place where your employees can communicate with each other.
The image of co-workers gathering around a water cooler is a metaphor for informal interactions that share information and reinforce social bonds. Absent explicit efforts to create a “virtual water cooler,” team meetings tend to become very task-focused; this means important information may not be shared and team cohesion may weaken. One simple way to avoid this: start each meeting with a check-in, having each member take a couple of minutes to discuss what they are doing, what’s going well and what’s challenging. Regular virtual team-building exercises are another way to inject a bit more fun into the proceedings. Also enterprise collaboration platforms increasingly are combining shared workspaces with social networking features that can help team members to feel more connected.
8. Clarify and track commitments.
When teams work remotely, it’s inherently more difficult to do this, because there is no easy way to observe engagement and productivity. As above, this can be partly addressed by carefully designing tasks and having regular status meetings. Beyond that, it helps to be explicit in getting team members to commit to define intermediate milestones and track their progress. One useful tool: a “deliverables dashboard” that is visible to all team members on whatever collaborative hub they are using. If you create this, though, take care not to end up practicing virtual micro-management. There is a fine line between appropriate tracking of commitments and overbearing (and demotivating) oversight.
9.) Foster shared leadership.
Defining deliverables and tracking commitments provides “push” to keep team members focused and productive; shared leadership provides crucial “pull.” Find ways to involve others in leading the team. Examples include: assigning responsibility for special projects, such as identifying and sharing best practices; or getting members to coach others in their areas of expertise; or assigning them as mentors to help on-board new team members; or asking them to run a virtual team-building exercise. By sharing leadership, you will not only increase engagement, but will also take some of the burden off your shoulders.
Shared leadership involves maximizing all of the human resources in an organization by empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise. With more complex markets increasing the demands on leadership, the job in many cases is simply too large for one individual.
10.) Don’t forget the 1:1s.
Leaders’ one-to-one performance management and coaching interactions with their team members are a fundamental part of making any team work. Make these interactions a regular part of the virtual team rhythm, using them not only to check status and provide feedback, but to keep members connected to the vision and to highlight their part of “the story” of what you are doing together.
In order to have a successful 1-on-1s session, you need to take time to prepare things needed for the session like, the set schedule and the agenda/topic. During the session, it is also important that you will know what are the important things that they wanted to share in the team. Talking about work habits, work goals, and team’s happiness could be an ideal topic for this session. Communication in the workplace is one of the weakest part of some organization. 1-on-1 is a great process to have a frequent conversation between the manager and employees. Although it’s a time-consuming effort, it will make a big impact in the organization. Most people like to speak about their accomplishments and concerns. Have an open ear and actively listen to everything your team members have to say. You can guide the conversation to understand even better what is meant and provide immediate guidance and feedback.
When launching your startup, there a million things that could go wrong, especially if you are outsourcing your work to a remote team. You need a reliable team who have experience of launching and scaling software applications.
At Bootyard, we have been launching and scaling Ruby on Rails apps since 2011. We have agile practices in place geared towards working efficiently with remote clients. If you have an project you want to work on, feel free to contact us firstname.lastname@example.org