Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 45;   November 6, 2002: Dispersity Adversity

Dispersity Adversity

by

Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.

When Marilyn heard, "Earth calling Marilyn, come in please," she suddenly realized that she'd been staring blankly at the Gantt chart. The wall-sized Gantt chart. The hopelessly outdated wall-sized Gantt Chart. Her mind had wandered.

The world"Marilyn here. Over," she replied. "So how do you think it happened?"

Phil was stumped too. "It's a puzzle, isn't it? Project of the Year to red-listed in three months. That chart is just expensive wallpaper now — actually, I kinda like it for the men's room."

"You would. But really…why is this project so different?"

As they talked, they kept returning to their decision not to use local talent. Back when they couldn't even get approval for contractors, they'd decided to use the Wellington people, who were 2000 miles away. And then, three weeks later, they added the two European teams. That made the score: time zones 4, languages 3, continents 2. They had had no choice…after September 11, travel became impractical, even when it was allowed.

Marilyn and Phil are struggling with managing a geographically dispersed team.

If you haven't had that experience, imagine a little four-month experiment.

People work better together
when they know each other
First month
Replace all team meetings with teleconferences. Visiting a teammate's office is not permitted. Use the phone or interdepartmental mail instead.
Second month
Continue as last month, and eliminate hallway conversation. Use snail mail or overnight delivery instead of interdepartmental mail.
Third month
Continue as last month, but limit telephone conferences to three per week, at 7 AM or 11 PM. All other communication is by fax or email. Team members may not lunch together.
Fourth month
Continue as last month, but now in-person meetings are permitted — provided they are held at least a full day's journey away by air.

After four months, you'll understand a little of what a dispersed team deals with — if you still have a project left.

Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams:

People work better when they know each other
What we don't know, we make up, and what we make up is often scary. When we know each other — even a little — we like each other better.
Have an in-person kickoff meeting
An in-person kickoff meeting is essential, because people have to know each other before they can trust each other. Leave plenty of free time for socializing.
Face-to-face meetings are necessary
People need to meet face-to-face once in a while. It's the way we're made. Budget for it.
Count on trouble
Communications are more problematic the more remote they are. Face-to-face is safer than phone is safer than email is safer than fax is safer than overnight mail is safer than silence.
Get training in video, email, and phone
Since we aren't born knowing how to conduct a videoconference, we need training to do it well. Training in email and teleconferencing is also helpful.

Using a dispersed team might be a way around the bureaucratic constraints, but it isn't cheap, because you need budget for travel and training. Most important: go slow. It takes time to prevent (and sort out) communication mix-ups. Go to top Top  Next issue: High Falutin' Goofy Talk  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

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When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting." We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?

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It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
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The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

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When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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