Fostering Excellence
Bringing out the best in each of us
Distributed work environments can exacerbate challenges that all teams struggle with under ordinary circumstances.  When teams work with each other from a distance, in different towns, states or even countries, difficulties in workflow, communication and even trust can be magnified.

It takes focused efforts to mitigate these types of effects inherent in distributed work environments. Luckily, there is a lot you as a leader can do to lessen these challenges while reaping the benefits that come from leveraging talent in locations outside your primary office spaces. Here are five principles to follow when posturing a distributed team for success:    

Thriving in Distributed Work Environments 

Stack the Deck: When building a team that will work with each other across distances, you will want to ensure that there are members of that team with strong interpersonal skills and high emotional intelligence. This team will need these team members to read the mood of the team and have the skills and tact to short circuit any problems that are building before they slow your team down or erode intra-team trust. Bring in those harmonizers to the team!

Start Strong: Social capital is important for any team, but teams that work with each other from a distance have a harder time accruing it. If possible, start your team off working together in the same location, pay for travel expenses if necessary. Starting them off with a foundation of social capital can help you avoid problems in the future and can lay a strong base from which to build in the future.

Establish Ground Rules: Establishing how your team will work together, having clear divisions of responsibilities, will go a long way to making sure the important work of your business gets done. Staying organized as a team when you are all collocated is much easier than when distributed.  Clearly defining who will be accomplishing what tasks and when can help.

Consistent and Frequent Communication Rituals: All teams need to communicate, but this is even more important for distributed teams. Don’t leave communication to chance; build it in to your teams rituals. Monday, Wednesday, Friday VTC’s for instance, can keep your team in sync and communicating. Scheduled conference calls or regular email updates are also very useful.

Transparency, Transparency, Transparency: This can’t be emphasized enough. Having your team members completely aware of the deliverables, work and status of other team members builds trust. Team members left in doubt as to the productivity or efforts of other team members sows the seeds of doubt that slow teams down and destroy trust. More transparency, not less, is required for distributed teams.

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Make Time for Building Social Capital

Distributed teams bring a lot of advantages to your company. You can hire talent otherwise unavailable to your team, you can place liaisons in locations critical to your company’s operations, and you can reduce travel expenses. Distributed teams experience challenges inherent in their construct, but these can be mitigated with clear ground rules, frequent communications, transparency and harmonizers members with high emotional intelligence.

Michael Farr, PMP, is a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and founder of He is passionate about recognition and enabling professionals to motivate their organizations through recognizing their member’s excellence. When he is not slaying dragons with his kids, he can be found at @fosterxcellence on Twitter and @fosteringexcellence on Facebook.