Distributed Teams Break Down Because of Communication

What can you do to avoid this?

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As a team grows & goes global, the challenge in maintaining high quality communication grows too. There’s no universal recipe for building top-tier team communication. But there are ways to avoid the most frequent mistakes.

Over-do the planning

Much as in-house teams benefit from over-communication, distributed teams require it too. You need to plan all communication activities in advance. Then spread this blueprint out in front of your team in the most concise and understandable way you’re capable of. Thereafter, ask if everything’s clear and repeat everything again, just in case. Feeling the urgency and priority of different agenda items is harder when you’re not in the middle of an active office.

When you’re separated by miles and seas, you would do better to avoid vague terminology such as “ASAP”, “in your own time” or “whenever you have a chance”. These expressions could be efficiency-killers within an in-house team. Make coherent plans, set specific deadlines and don’t rely on chance.

Set a reporting procedure

Reporting is a logical and essential extension of proper planning. Once you set clear objectives, make sure that your team reports on the results.

As a team grows & goes global, the challenge in maintaining high quality communication grows too.

The most important thing to consider here is trust. Carving out trusting relations within a distributed team is a complicated process and a strict, cumbersome, reporting procedure might jeopardize that faith. However, before you search for the right balance, remember that insisting on regular reports doesn’t mean that you doubt your team’s honesty. It’s better to perceive reporting as a way of establishing the connection, as another communication tool to keep everyone in the loop.

Nothing replaces eye-to-eye meetings

One of the main advantages of a distributed organization is cost reduction, and so it may seem counterintuitive to suddenly leverage eye-to-eye meetings.

Organizing a trip every three months is actually not more expensive than if your team were all in once place. Run the calculations and you’ll see. It’s also an important factor for keeping everyone on a friendly basis, and for maintaining business alignment.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of in-person meetings. According to this study, eye-to-eye meetings aren’t only a team-building tool, but a powerful instrument for completing projects. The participants of the study reported that after working remotely on complicated tasks they couldn’t fully solve certain issues until they met together to brainstorm and share knowledge. This is not to say that a team needs to be together at all times, but it definitely helps every now and then.

Find the right time

If your team is scattered around the globe, you’ll inevitably encounter challenges with setting up a time for meetings. What you can do, to at least mitigate the problem, is to opt for nearshoring instead of offshoring (that is, looking closer to home). By building your distributed team in neighboring countries, scheduling a meeting won’t be affected by time differences. On top of that, you’ll enjoy continuity in communication, not influenced by mismatching holidays and days-off.

In any case, finding a good time to gather all members of a global team is complex. You’ll have to walk that extra mile to make it work.

Be a cultural diplomat

There are plenty of culture-based business communication patterns which can cause misunderstandings. Long glares, empty promises, unwanted interruptions, handshakes (or their absence)—these are things that differ from country to country.

To avoid awkwardness stock up on research (or, you know, reach out to a trusted friend on Facebook Messenger who understands the culture in hand). In our opinion, cultural diplomacy is mostly about being open-minded and not jumping to conclusions. Any time a fellow worker acts in a manner which you’re not used to, take your time to consider cultural differences. You need to treat team members with equal tolerances and respect. Another way to secure cultural understanding is to build a team within neighboring countries that share similar traditions and behavioral patterns.

Use easy language

In multilingual teams, distributed teams also encounter frequent complications with language.

To make cross-border communication a bit easier it is advisable to set some rules.

–          Native speakers should dial down their fluency, avoid idioms and use simpler language which can be really helpful to an active listener—e.g. rephrasing complicated sentences or asking clear and concise questions.

–          Non-native speakers should always have a chance to participate in discussions, comment and share their opinion. Eventually they’ll find their feet in these meetings. Yet be prudent, it’s good practice to regularly ask if everyone understands what they are trying to communicate.

–          Team leaders should actively coordinate the process—cut down on unnecessarily long speeches, encourage collective discussions and stick to the schedule in hand.

Stable connection

There is a great deal of relying on technology in distributed teams as you spend much of your time communicating online. There are many video chat platforms out there (e.g. Skype) and they all have a few inherent flaws in common.

There is hardly anything you can do to prevent bluescreens or app crashes, but some things are within influence. For example, make sure that you have stable (and secure, if needed) Wi-Fi connection before starting the call. If possible, use cable, instead of Wi-Fi to avoid any unexpected failures. Check the app’s audio recording and playback settings. Make sure the camera is detected.

Find the technology that suits you the most, and then accept its shortcomings, because no one’s perfect.

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