Leading dispersed teams: it’s all about communication

Dispersed teams can be described as ‘teams working together apart’. These teams have members who are not in the same place and they come from different countries, cultures and time zones. 

Managing geographically-dispersed teams is not an easy issue. Probably the most difficult task is to create a deep sense of belonging to the team among the different members and at the same time keep a high productivity performance. For that purpose it is mandatory to have a clear strategy, very solid values and a strong leadership. The team members need to know and understand what they are doing together. If they understand only their own work, they will always just be individual contributors. So it is necessary finding some time to be together to share knowledge and experience and, of course, to socialize.

Team members located together have opportunities to socialize throughout the day. Virtual teams don’t, so it is more important for the manager to look for ways they can be together. This might include getting  time in a face-to-face meetings.

According to some researches face-to-face meetings are best when occurring at predictable times and intervals. This allows team members to plan their time and interactions, reserving discussion of certain complex or delicate issues for those in-person interactions.

Therefore it seems very clear that the key for dispersed team members commitment is communication. You need to be extremely proactive in your communications to make sure everyone understands what is expected. The communication lines on a this kind of team must be opened up especially wide.

Communication is all about conversations. So the first task for a team leader is listening to the team and give all the members opportunities to express their opinions and feelings. The leader must build a safe and confident atmosphere to be sure  the conversations and feedback are sincere and honest.

It is also very recommended to conduct periodic employee satisfaction surveys to truly understand the issues that concern people and to design an action plan to deal with the improvement areas.

Some interesting articles on managing virtual and dispersed teams are: