image by Gabriel Benios

The 5 Behaviours of Effective Distributed Teams

One of the positive things to come out of the current COVID-19 lockdown measures is the ‘forced’ necessary shift towards people working remotely. Those organisations that have previously resisted remote or flexible working have had to adapt… quickly.

Of course, not every job is best suited to working remotely and not everyone wants to work remotely. However, many organisations have now proved it’s possible and perhaps, post-COVID, it will become part of their overall workplace culture.

By offering flexible working arrangements organisations will have a larger pool of candidates to pick from and will generate greater cultural vibrancy as they move from a model where trust has to be earned to one where trust is assumed.

Having team members geographically distributed doesn’t mean that targets get missed, employees are disengaged or that there is a disconnect between those at home and those in the office. In fact as technology improves and internet speeds increase, it should become almost seamless (although we’re not there yet!).

A quick definition of what I mean by ‘distributed team’. A distributed team is one where the people work in different locations but have access to the same technology and tools.

Of crucial importance to a distributed team is that they agree on the behaviours that they expect of each other and the rituals they will use to enhance collaboration at the start of a piece of work so that everyone understands how work is going to get delivered. Often they will fly to a central location to agree to this prior to work starting. Where the opportunity exists to build relationships in person, they will take it as it means that they’re much easier to maintain online.

When this is not possible (such as right now!) those teams will agree on the behaviours and rituals via video conference and ensure accountability exists to hold each other to them.

Dom Price, Work Futurist at Atlassian, wrote about this two years ago and I recommend reading his blog here, which is as relevant now as it was then.

Most distributed teams are good at agreeing on how they’ll collaborate. Which tool will be used for what and how updates will be provided. However, in my experience of working with distributed teams over the last three years, they are less effective at agreeing the behaviours that they will display towards each other. Without this agreement collaboration is much more difficult.

So here’s what I believe are the five most important behaviours for distributed teams, however, these may differ for you depending on how ‘mature’ your relationships are with each other.

Disciplined

  • Define what success looks like and remove barriers to getting things done
  • Use time productively and say no to unproductive activities
  • Deliver to deadlines
  • Set expectations clearly

Flexible

  • Not fixed to a single way of working or prescribed cultural norm
  • Open to new ideas and solutions
  • Embraces change as a positive
  • Good at re-prioritising work

Collaborative

  • Makes time for relationship building
  • Builds an environment that supports different ways of working
  • Develops a shared vision, collective ownership and responsibility for progress
  • Continually looks for smarter ways to do things

Courageous

  • Challenges each other to hit targets
  • Ask for forgiveness not permission
  • Manages poor performance and behaviour
  • Challenges insufficient processes

Empathetic

  • Able to understand and share the feelings of other team members
  • Creates a safe environment where everyone feels welcome and able to participate
  • Communication tailored to the individual needs
  • Offers to help others when their priorities are more pressing

These behaviours also apply to non-distributed teams, however, they are especially important when not co-located. Given that culture is the sum of everyone’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, traditions and skills it’s important that the whole team is involved in defining the culture and how the behaviours will be demonstrated on a daily basis. Introducing accountability will further enhance teamwork and ensure that everyone can bring their best self to their work every day.

Once you gain the buy-in, you will reap the benefits that a vibrant culture brings, the main one being happiness of staff. And who doesn’t want to be happy in their work, wherever it takes place?!

As ever I’m always interested in your thoughts, so feel free to comment below, contact me at colin@colindellis.com or over on the ‘socials’!

Best-selling Author of Culture Fix | Keynote Speaker | Facilitator | Devoted Dad | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot www.colindellis.com