How Can Managers Align The Efforts Of Their Distributed Team

As our teams spread out, keeping everyone connected becomes harder
As our teams spread out, keeping everyone connected becomes harder
Image Credit: Rex Block

As though managers didn’t have enough to do, now it seems as though our teams are starting to become more spread out. Once upon a time we would have team members who would work from home perhaps once a week. Now we have team members who are always working from home. In fact, we may have team members who are remotely located in foreign countries. Somehow we have to take this spread out group of people and come up with a way to get them to all work together. We need a plan.

Problems With Distributed Teams

A recent study of more than 60,000 Microsoft associates who were working remotely during the pandemic found that the shift to company-wide remote work made these workers feel less interconnected and caused their collaboration network to become more heavily siloed. The study further noted that workers did not seek to make up for this lack of connectedness and silo behavior via extra audio or video calls, as one might expect, but instead found that, remote work caused team members to communicate more through media that are more asynchronous such as sending more emails and many more IMs. Unfortunately, the result of this new wave of written communication only served to make things worse at work for the team members.

What managers need to understand is that the sheer volume of emails and text messages are creating significant job dissatisfaction among team members. A recent survey found that more than a third of the work-from-home respondents want to quit their jobs due in part to the volume of email, Slack and Teams messages that they are receiving every day. The same survey reported a virtual tie in preference by team members between cleaning bathrooms and sorting through a week of work messages. As if all of this negative employee sentiment isn’t reason enough for managers to rethink things, it turns out that an over-reliance on written communication can open the door to a rash of errors and miscommunication between team members.

The problem that we have with all of those written forms of communication is that people tend to miss even simple, little details. Now, if we ratchet this up across hundreds of thousands of sentences in thousands of written communications each month just imagine what can happen. It’s no wonder that a recent study found that 86% of respondents pointed to ineffective communication as the number one cause of their workplace failures. So, what’s a manager’s answer to far-flung teammates failing to communicate?

Solving The Communication Problem

So somewhat amazingly, the answer to the communication problem that is bedeviling teams everywhere is very simple. It comes down to holding a simple huddle at the beginning of every day. The daily huddle meeting is exactly what its name implies that it is. It’s a short, 5 to 10 minute meeting at the start of each day that requires all team members to gather together to set the tone for and discuss the priorities for each day. Additionally, you will want to also review both the good and not so good things that might have happened the day before. This meeting ends by identifying any obstacles that stand between the team and achieving its goals.

Managers realize that a key function of any organization is to align the efforts of many talented individuals towards a single common purpose. To accomplish this, they have to be in the right collaborative conversations with the right other people about the right topics to advance their shared understanding. Working towards common purpose requires solving problems about what to do, why to do it, and how to get it down with frequency, speed, and competency. Daily Huddles provide both the right amount of connectivity and also provide a forum for collaborative team problem solving.

Managers need to be prepared for some push-back at first. The daily huddle brings with it a level of accountability, visibility and open conversation. These features won’t always be everyone’s cup of tea … at least in the beginning. But managers must not give up. The daily huddle meeting works; it can help drive heightened morale and engagement, improved alignment and increased performance, as well as better compliance. For managers struggling to manage hybrid workforces, it just might be the best ten-minute investment of time you’ll ever make.

What All Of This Means For You

Managers manage teams. In the past this used to be a fairly simple thing for us to do – our team was in the office, we were in the office, it was easy for everyone to communicate with everyone. However, then the pandemic hit. For over a year your team was distributed and everyone had to struggle to stay in touch. Now that the pandemic has faded, life has not gotten back to normal for anyone. Our teams are still spread out with people only coming into the office occasionally. With this kind of distributed team, a manager’s job has not changed – we still need to find ways to get our team to be able to accomplish tasks by working together.

When our teams spread out, they realized that they were facing a communication problem. They could no longer walk down the hall and have a chat with a fellow team member. They chose to fill in the gaps by sending more emails and IM messages to the other members of their team. Unfortunately the result of all of this additional chatter was that team members quickly started to feel overwhelmed with communications. A problem with trying to communicate between team members this way is that we all tend to make mistakes and miscommunications can happen at any time. In order to solve this problem, managers need to start to hold daily huddle meetings. These meetings involve all team members and give everyone a chance to talk about what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and what challenges they are facing. These meeting allow the team to work together as they move forward. There may initially be some push back from the team, but it will go away over time.

As managers, our job is to find ways to get our team to work together in order to accomplish tasks. This can’t happen if our team is not clearly communicating between everyone on the team. As the manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that clear lines of communication exist and are being used. A daily huddle meeting is a great way to set your team up to be successful. Give it a try and see what happens!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that problems discovered during the daily huddle should be dealt with immediately after the meeting?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a manager, you are the person who is in charge of a team. Your company expects you to find ways to get the most out of your team. The problem that most of us run into is that we don’t necessarily know how to make this happen. I think that a lot of us believe that there must be some magical means that we can use to connect with our team and draw their best work out of them. I hate to be the one to tell you that such a magical tool does not exist. However, it turns out that there is something that is fairly simple that you can use that will allow you to better connect with everyone on your team.