It seems that distributed (or virtual) Agile teams are becoming almost the standard nowadays, as companies are looking to leverage team resources anywhere they can across the globe. This might be a positive thing if we seek to optimize labor cost and reduce the overhead of having a physical office. However, how can we make sure we are getting the right output from the teams?
In my experience working with remote, distributed teams, I can state with confidence that most teams will likely NOT achieve the same level of performance and success as a co-located team. There are many reasons for this, but the one factor that stands out the most is communication. Even with the aid of tools such as video conferencing, not being physically co-located creates extra barriers that will erode a team’s productivity. This means that we need to invest additional effort to help distributed Agile teams perform at their highest level.
What can we do to help them be successful? We may start by avoiding common pitfalls that tend to hamper a virtual Agile team. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.
Bad Habit #1 – Only talk to your teammates during scheduled times
When you sit in your own home office away from the rest of the team, there’s a tendency of working in your own silo, and not collaborating with others. This is not necessarily because you don’t like your team or want to talk to them, but calling them or sending them an instant message requires an extra step, which may sometimes feel like a lot of work when you are right in the middle of a task.
Agile teams typically schedule many meetings such as a Daily Scrum. However, virtual teams need to make an extra effort to “check in” with the other team members and maintain open lines of communication where possible.
Bad Habit #2 – Only focus on your own tasks
When you are not physically situated in the same office space as your team, it’s a lot easier to only focus on your own tasks and not think about what the other people are working on. Agile teams are designed to be self-organizing and self-managing, which means that everyone on the team should do their best to help each other out where possible in order to maximize output.
Bad Habit #3 – Assign tasks to each team member
As mentioned previously, Agile teams are intended to be self-managing, which means that the team should figure out the best way to get work done. One pitfall that I have seen frequently is someone (usually a Project Manager or Functional Manager) assigning tasks to each person on the team so that he/she can feel the false sense of everyone being “fully utilized.” Assigning tasks to individuals is a bad practice for a number of reasons: (1) It stifles innovation; telling someone exactly how to solve a problem essentially turns that person into an order-taker, and takes away that person’s desire to find a more innovative solution to a problem, (2) It discourages teamwork; assigning a task to a team member encourages that person to only work on what he/she was told, which takes away the collaboration that we need in order to develop a high-performing team.
To close out this short article, there are many ways that a virtual Agile team can fail, but if you can find a way to side-step the common mistakes that teams make, you will have a much higher chance of achieving the results you want!