Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Working with Global and Distributed Agile Teams

This session was presented by Ken Pugh of Net Objectives. Although the presentation was heavy in power point slides (more than 75 packed in a 90 minute session) I collected some useful bits of information that could be useful to colleagues who need to deal with global agile teams. Starting off, the following definitions must be made:
  • A dispersed team is one that is physically less than one minutes apart
  • A distributed team is one that involves transportation if its members want to meet
  • A global team usually implies different countries, different cultures and major physical separation
The greater part of the presentation modeled distributed and agile teams by presenting the following different aspects that need to be dealt with:
  • Communication
  • Trust and Us-ness
  • Communication Media
  • Face to Face
  • Organization

I shall summarize each aspect of this presentation highlighting the relevant parts to my organization and in particular, my department. One of the problems inherent to working with a global and culturally diverse team is communication. The same works in one culture can have a different meaning in another. For example, define the meaning of:
  • "Done"
  • "I'll have that for you tomorrow"
  • "Yes"
The group was polled with a suggested list of meaning and obviously the responses were different. In order to simplify communication if must define meaning in order for everyone to understand the proper meaning of things. Another aspect of communication is tokens. An example of a communication token could be honking the horn of you car or nodding you head. Once again there are as many meanings to a token as there are cultures that use them. Responses such as saying "okay" or remaining silent can vary in meaning. The important thing when dealing with communication is to define meaning, agree on interpretation of tokens and if the meaning is to embedded in a culture invent your own.

Trust and Us-ness

in an agile team can be defined as:
  • Reliability
  • Predictability
  • Competence
It is important to establish trust within a team because trust reduces the need for control and management. To achieve this, it requires clear goals and commitment. However, it is important to remember that trust is a very fragile thing, it is build up incrementally but broken precipitately. As a team leader or member, you must firstly acknowledge that trust takes time. Team members should expect to earn trust; this means that actions should match words. In summary, defining expectation allow a team to self organize base on these expectation can help foster and develop trust over time.

Us-ness is a term used to define a whole. We are a team; we work as one towards common goals. The best way to explain what us-ness is would be to transform us versus them into us = whole team and them = the competition. Us-ness can be developed with different team activities or celebrations to bring the team as one.

Communication Media

This section can be summed up by the means we use to communicate. Instant messaging, teleconference calls, text communication and face to face meetings (more on this later) are all ways to facilitate communication. The idea is to use what make your team work.

Face to Face

I will quote the presenter on this: "You will pay for the cost of face to face meetings whether you have one or not". I found this quote particularly interesting because it touches a human aspect of communication. No matter how many different types of mediums we use to communication, nothing beats a simple face to face meeting. This also helps eliminate the impression that work is being "dumped" onto a team which then feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the organization.


It is possible that certain policies intra and inter-organization could hinder the productivity of a distributed and global team, so this is an aspect that should also be considered to help you make the most of your team.

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