Guidelines for Effective TeamWork in Remote Teams

Here are some suggested practice for cultivating and maintaining effective teamwork in starts that are working as remote teams.

Guidelines for Effective TeamWork in Remote Teams

Jeff Allison and I were contacted by a team we had supported for several years to help them work through a breakdown in communication. We met with them today for about 90 minutes in Zoom, and Jeff took point, asking people to explain their perspective on the situation and their concerns. We had a surprisingly positive outcome: improvements in team morale and clear working agreements on moving forward. I took away some “rules of thumb” I will apply more generally.

effective teamwork in remote teams

Assume good intent as a default
It’s OK to have suspicions about someone’s purpose, but you should engage with a default assumption of positive intent.

Admit you don’t know or don’t understand
Talented engineers and experienced professionals can find it difficult to admit they don’t understand something. In seeking a working agreement or shared situational awareness, it’s a solid move to say, “I am not sure why you are asking for this or suggesting this course of action. Can you please explain your perspective on this? What led you to make this statement or suggest this approach.” Again, assume good intent and ask questions until you understand their perspective. Telling someone you understand what they are asking for does not mean that you agree with them or will take the action they requested. Still, it avoids an ongoing dialog where one or more participants are “talking past each other” because they don’t understand.

Conversation not Email
If you are trying to reach a working agreement, collaborate face to face at a whiteboard or mark up the same large sheet(s) of paper. If that is not feasible, get into a phone or Zoom call and a shared edit doc (e.g., Google Docs, Notion, Teams doc) and collaborate in real time. Focus on the key problem you need to solve (or at least a list of problems), how to evaluate potential solutions or plans, and options to be considered. You don’t have to come to a complete agreement in one working session but don’t fall back on “dueling emails” until you have had a clear meeting of the minds.

Startups are hard and this economy is making them harder
This economy has put a lot of stress on startups, and good teams are struggling. You can be on a good team, have a good product, and still struggle. You may not be achieving your goals, but that does not mean that it’s anyone’s “fault.” Trust, morale, mutual respect, and shared situational awareness are essential precursors to sustainable shared success.

Meaning before detail: what is the problem you are trying to solve?
If you are suggesting a change in process or course of action that may be misinterpreted, try to communicate “meaning before detail.” Explain the problem you are trying to address or the impact you are trying to have before you get into the details–don’t start arguing about tactics before you have an agreement on goals.

Remote teams must maintain regular check-ins
These can be short calls, Skype, Zooms but it must be at least synchronous voice. . Even a ten-minute call twice a week can help people stay in sync, don’t just rely on email, and don’t be afraid to make a call when things seem to be going sideways. I think these same rules of thumb also maintain good working relationships with customers, key vendors, and partners.

What’s Missing?

What rules of thumb do you have for maintaining trust, morale, and joint engagement in effective action on teams–in particular remote teams–that you are working on?

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