What are the hidden characteristics of a great team? It’s worth pointing out that teams work at their best when held together by a social connection. This doesn’t mean that a team has to be like a family. But a certain amount of social mortar is what holds the bricks together.
A lot of people say that this is because having a social bond with each other raises the stakes. We are more accountable to people that are closer to us. And they feel more accountable to us. But there’s more to it than accountability. There are factors that aren’t visible. One of those is the tacit knowledge within the team.
Let’s say you develop projects in a single location. Information availability will make the team function smoother, compared to a distributed team. Because in distributed development, only actively shared information is available.
Dispersed teams tend to communicate on a per-need basis. This means a remote programmer talks to a project lead when one of them needs info. This is very efficient but can lead to a lack of tacit knowledge as described above. So here’s how we fix it.
Make It Easy For People To Connect
Think about how you communicate with the team members not in your office. Identify the different types of communication you have between your co-located team members. How do they differ?
Chances are, there will be a decent overlap, but also a considerable difference. Each company has its own communication structure, so we must generalize.
At Distant Job, we make it a point to see the people away from us as people, not resources. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking of a remote worker as a content producing machine. You send requirements; you get work back. But the whole point of having a remote programmer is that you’re dealing with a person. It’s not an Amazon Mechanical Turk.
As someone invested in nurturing your team, it’s up to you to make people feel at home and interested in each other. The first step should be establishing an internal communications platform. We use Slack. If you don’t enjoy it, we’ve also come up with some alternatives.
Then, get people involved with each other. Encourage them to talk about stuff. Interests, likes and dislikes, achievements in previous jobs. If you’ve conducted a good interview with a focus on culture, you should know where to start.
Next, incentivise people to make their tacit knowledge obvious to all. The best way to do this is by helping people celebrate their accomplishments. Even their interests! You don’t need anything fancy. Rudimentary gamification techniques will do.
Think of awarding badges and / or titles to people. Lighthearted things like PHP Master. Gaming Wizard. Queen of Android Development. At Distant Job, we have a Keymaster. People instinctively know who to reach if they need help with security or passwords.
Your Local Devs Should Be In On The Game
Remember the cardinal rule of distributed development. “You don’t have a local team and a remote team. You have a team, and some work in a different office.” The things described above aren’t meant to be a remote worker exclusive playground. Invite and incentivise everyone to partake.
The goal is to make communication as close as possible between local and distributed. Does this sound like too much trouble? Consider that this is sure to improve your local performance as well.
Communication can be more challenging across time zones, accents and cultures, sure. But it is not always acknowledged how hard it is in person.
Some distributed teams do a better job of correcting gaps in communication. They use more explicit examples. They use and update their documentation more often. They practice more active awareness of sharing daily successes and challenges.
We get it. Change is hard. It’s inconvenient and annoying. But what if all your employees adopt a distributed communication mindset? You’ll end up with better documentation, more discussions and more shared knowledge.
Remote teams are better because they can’t slack on the fundamentals. Mixing remote developers with local developers forces everyone to up their game.