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How to keep your distributed teams thriving

If you are in the services industry, you are probably aware that having a distributed team is often the norm. It makes great sense. You can hire the best people for a project regardless of where they live. Consultants often spend long periods of time away at client sites, which means you could be paying for office space that rarely gets used.  And given today’s anytime, anywhere work environment, teams can collaborate outside of a co-located office and get their jobs done from anywhere – enabled by cloud technology.  But despite all the inherent benefits, it can also have its challenges and consultants are often at risk for a burnout.

I recently gave a talk on this very subject in an effort to help managers recognize signs you could have a non-productive and ‘a crash and burn’ team member on your hands, along with ways to avoid it and/or address it.  We are in an industry where your people are your product, which means it’s crucial to keep them happy and productive from wherever they are. To recap a bit from my earlier post, below are some warning signs:

  • Lack of responsiveness or urgency
  • Late timecard submissions
  • Doesn’t ask for help / doesn’t offer to help
  • Stops the conversation / blocks collaboration
  • Working in a silo or “black box”
  • Using e-mail for project document version control

Are you experiencing or can you spot any of these signs with your team? Whether it’s one, two or all of the above indications, there are theories to apply that can help avoid and/or conquer a potential problem. Having been a consultant, managed consultants, and delivered hundreds of service projects, I have my share of ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’ under my belt. Here are a few thoughts:  

1. Put your team first – you can’t develop a team with only individual contributors or unicorns.

  • Hire for both the role and the team
  • Hire by referral, not by resume
  • Develop the leaders from within who have embraced your culture

2. Don’t plan for perfection. Accept the fact that a distributed workforce…

  • Makes coordination harder
  • Makes communication more difficult – especially when it comes to touchy subjects
  • Makes being proactive more important than ever

3. Team needs guidance, but not too much.

  • You really want the team to take ownership of the work
  • Therefore teams should be self-managing
  • A “Gibbs’ rules”  type approach provides the correct level of guidance for addressing some of the key issues.  We have our own version:

4. Sell what you can deliver. Deliver what you sell.  

  • Services teams should have real-time pipeline views and can plan appropriately
  • Sales can see what’s going on with projects and not over commit
  • This can easily happen if sales and services work off the same system

5. Empower your road warriors.

  • Help team stay connected and stay efficient on an anytime, anywhere basis.
  • Give them tools where they can complete administrative tasks, communicate with each other, submit timecards and expenses — all from a mobile device

6. Create communities so everyone stays informed and in the loop.

  • Share, store, and manage all your project related files in one central place
  • Create customer invoices, track vendor and subcontractor payments from a central portal so everyone can track status.

7. Maximize technology like FinancialForce PSA to help.

  • Get 360° view of people, projects, and accounts to flag issues, monitor status.
  • Apply social project management with Chatter & Communities
  • Use resource management visibility to deliver right resources, right skills, right time.
  • Provide road warriors with everything they need to stay effective from anywhere

Many people will be reading this and saying to themselves ‘sure, these are nice tips in theory but… ’and we get it, the very nature of consulting makes some of these suggestions difficult, but not impossible.  So give it some thought and effort and you may never even have to address some of these issues. You may even develop your own “Rules to Work By.”

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