Recipe of Successful Collaboration – Distributed Global Teams

 

In today’s global village, it is common to have teams spread across geographies. When this happens, it’s a real test of skills for the management team to make sure that the distributed model works. It’s even a bigger challenge when Agile is the execution methodology because agile demands high degree of collaboration. I am sharing my experiences how I managed Agile deliveries when multiple teams were sitting miles away yet have common goal. Such an engagement should be managed at two levels. First, at process level where everybody must agree and adhere to certain disciplines. Second, at leadership level where top management must embrace this challenge and do certain things.

At Process and Agile discipline Level:

  1. Frequent collocation of international team members – across teams and also between Product owner (PO) and teams – must allocate some budget at the beginning of the project to take care of travel expenses.
  2. Daily distributed stand up meeting.
  3. Daily status mails sent to every member with this format what we did today, plan for tomorrow and impediments, the status can also be updated on shared platform e.g. wiki instead of mail – idea here is to record the status somewhere.
  4. Enforce distributed pair programming – when and with whom – this should be chosen carefully, here role of mature scrum master becomes really important:

      Fingers crossed Distributed pair programming between developers across teams separated geographically

    High five  Distributed pair programming across skills e.g. tester and  
           developer, developer and UI designer, tester and UI
           designer

  5. Mature tester – tester is the eyes of the product owner:     
  6. Light bulbtester(s) must take ownership of the entire product and not
           the just the pieces being developed in the same room

    Light bulbhe must work closely with all teams, and not just with the
           team sitting next to him

    Light bulbif teams are large, it is highly recommended to have 1 tester
           per team

  7. All international team members must have shared vision, shared responsibility and collective ownership.
  8. Take help of advance technology for distributed stuff e.g. technical discussions, pair programming, demo, planning etc. use screen sharing and have best quality of audio and video.
  9. Enforce discipline – Agile meetings e.g. planning meeting, demo, retrospectives must be participated by every member unless there are serious and unavoidable reasons, and when someone misses any of these important meetings, someone in the team must update the absentee ASAP.
  10. Maintain electronic dashboard to track status anytime anywhere e.g. Jira with GreenHopper.
  11. Product owner must be available to all teams across geographies, if he is too busy he should appoint proxy product owner but team must always get full support from this role of PO.
  12. Have scrum of scrums at regular frequency.

At Leadership Level:

  1. Mature leadership:

    a. Leadership must accept this as challenge, believe in this philosophy of global teams and committed for the success of this.
    b. In such a large and distributed set up, leadership plays a very important role for the success of this model, can’t leave up to developers and architects only

  2. Must gather knowledge of cross culture and find ways to groom teams with each other’s sensitive quotient, e.motional quotient, choice of words etc. to ensure absolute harmony.
  3. Identify strengths and skills of each team, each member and allocate tasks accordingly, it needs due diligence, visionary outlook and experienced.
  4. Take away any hidden emotions such as:

    Sad smile  fear of job security
    Sad smile superiority complex
    Sad smile feeling of running away with all the credit

  5. Inculcate highest collaboration and team spirit:

    Left hugRight hug

    a. Total team work, one team feeling – individual heroism is second to none
    b.  Your problem is my problem too
    c.  Every team member brings certain competency, his skills are precious and his suggestions are valuable
    d. It’s always about “WE” and never about you and
    e. Compassion and cooperation with fellow colleagues is the key to success

  6. Have smart people only: Agile and specially distributed agile cannot work with just ordinary developers – team must have a basic minimum level of maturity, professionalism and hence smartness.
  7. Resolve dependencies quickly – leadership must develop an informal model to first discover dependencies (usually hidden) quickly and then resolve ASAP without impacting the sprint goals.
  8. Strong Emphasis on the following and must facilitate it:

    Thumbs up Less documentation, more communication
    Star Less process, more trust and relations
    Soccer ball Shared responsibility and collective ownership

  9. Celebrating success together: It has been observed that when it comes to celebrations – teams does it locally within closed circle. It’s but natural for teams to go this way but Leadership must ensure the fruits of celebrations reach every corner of the global teams.
  10. Set expectations right away: Define roadmap to success of the project in the beginning; set team objectives clearly and deduce individual performance criteria from these bigger goals. Now ‘the highest team collaboration’ must be in the appraisal feedback parameters of every team member and must have significant weight assigned to this parameter. This ensures that if anyone does not understand the language of collaboration (either intentionally or lack of awareness) – s/he must learn it quickly otherwise it will hit his appraisal thereby adversely impacting salary hike and promotion.
  11. No complacency: This is an ongoing process that never stops. A slight laid back attitude here would impact the global collaboration adversely. Think it like an active volcano which can explode any time. Leadership must watch this volcano every minute and must keep it quiet every second without fail. Although it is natural human behavior to camp with local colleagues but over the period of time, it may result into invisible ganging where team in one location starts dominating over others. It’s very dangerous for the interest of the project and defeats the purpose of having global international teams. Leadership must watch this carefully, guard against building up of local lobbies, act upon immediately on slight discovery of such notions and nip the evil in the bud. To address this, leaders should demonstrate artistic touch to have a healthy blend of soft skills (motivation, cultural incubation) and slight flavor of authority as and when needed.
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Art of Corporate Relations

Human relations in corporate world are as important as in personal life. Success is always a team event. Having excellent and healthy relations is the foundation of any team. The word ‘team’ is a noun that represents a set of individuals working in absolute harmony with common goals. No two individuals can work together until unless they have humane relations. In this article, I would like to share my thoughts about what it takes to build relations in the corporate world. Relation between two human beings can be as simple as you want and as complex as you want.

Before publishing this article, I was thinking what would be the right title of this article. I thought of a few ones that may fit into the subject like – “When Manager becomes Leader” or “Where Managers Fail”. I finally settled for “Art of corporate relations.” Intended audience here is anyone who has a team to manage and those professionals aspiring to be managers and entrepreneurs.

There are 3 basic building blocks between any two human relations.

1. Respect
– pious and prestigious

2. Trust
– beautiful but hard earned

3. Honesty
– as rare as cool breeze in dessert

We must have read and heard these 3 words, thousand times in our life. On first look, it may seem very simple and almost everyone would say that “yeah, I know it well and always follow as well”. But trust me; there are very few people who know real essence of these three gems (respect, trust and honesty). In my humble opinion, some of the old fashioned and traditional managers especially in hierarchical communities who believe in authority and consider being manager as luxury, do not understand the science behind these 3 building blocks of relations. That’s where team starts maintaining distance from them and starts looking at them as evil. When this happens, you as manager has failed. Another way of saying is a manager becomes a leader when he understands this beautiful art of managing relations. Leader is not a title given my companies but it is a state of mind of your team members where:

• They start looking forward to their manager for all their problems

• Strong belief that this man has to be right even though I don’t understand his reasoning very well but I am sure my career is in safe hands and if I follow him, I will be good and protected

• Willing to do anything for him

When the above happens, manager becomes leader. It happens if and only if you show highest level of respect, utmost trust and honesty to your team. Let me explain my perspective of these qualities.

Respect

It means you treat the other person with utmost dignity as you want to be treated by others. You consider other person on equal footing at par as you yourself. You understand the emotions of the person equally good as the person himself. You give due respect to the feelings of the person. You acknowledge the competency of the person and give highest value to it. You are excited when he is happy and you feel bad when he is sad. You are worried when he is in trouble. Show compassion to the human being and believe everyone is a divine creation of God as you are yourself. His happiness is precious to you. When this happens, it is respect in real sense.

On the contrary, I have seen managers showing authority, killing people’s emotions with disdain, treating people like commodities and focused upon to please their own bosses. This way, you will always remain manager. In this process, you will draw people’s anger and anguish along with curse. Believe me; curse of a distressed and honest person never goes waste. It is going to come back and come back very hard directly and indirectly to you one day. Do not be manager to achieve targets set by your boss only. If you are leader, targets will be achieved anyway but more effectively and efficiently.

Trust

It means you believe that your team is doing everything right with right intention. It may be the case that team does not have enough experience to handle a situation or may not have a particular competency to achieve highest business results (no one is perfect) – but then a competent manager should help them succeed by adding his own experience, holding hands of team members and taking them to the ladder of success along with you. It also means that if you have different opinion, you still (as a first step) appreciate the actions and thoughts of him. Then explain your perspective as someone who is refining his ideas, coaching him on missing aspects (if any) and giving him a sure shot recipe of success. Also show him that you as manager stand behind him in every scenario and will be there to protect and support in every situation. When I say show, I don’t mean show-off but you should really mean it. These things cannot be borrowed or pretended superficially but it is inherent to good managers (leaders) and comes naturally to them.

Unfortunately, traditional managers just impose things on subordinates. Such managers always try to prove in front of team that “I know better than you, you don’t know anything, you are wrong, just follow me because I am your manager” anyway. This is not trust but sheer authority exhibited in an autocratic way.

Honesty

Be very transparent in your intentions, be very open in communication explaining everything why you want a particular thing to happen the way you want – what benefits team would have if they follow you as manager and how it will help the team to succeed. Your words, body language, and emotions – everything should be pious and truthful. Create an atmosphere where team can open their mind, speak from heart, and talk freely and fearlessly in front of you. A good manager must inculcate the honesty as religion in his life and thereby inspire team also to believe in honesty. First you have to be honest to yourself, only then you can expect your team to be honest. You lie and believe me you will be caught one day or sooner. Now a days, people of new generation are smart enough to find the truth and then gossiping makes it even tougher for you to hide a fact. Honesty is still the best policy and would always remain. In front of customers, you can be politically correct but again, no hiding facts, no lies.

Where relations go sour

1. Bad intentions : In the pursuit of quick bucks, sometimes people follow short-cuts, too focused on appraisals and do everything to please the boss, start playing politics and back biting, stealing credits of other people around etc. In this process, they compromise with basic principles of life. There are primarily 2 root causes why people have bad intentions. Everything else revolves around these.

a. Incompetency : In my opinion, competent people rarely have bad intentions

b. Super ambitious : Desire to achieve something and achieve as quickly as possible makes you follow short cuts

Incompetency and being highly ambitious is a deadly combination. I have analyzed why this happens. It is because people want to achieve primarily 2 things in their life – Money and Authority. There is nothing wrong in it. But for talented and competent people, money and authority is the natural outcome and they are bound to get sooner or later. Problem starts when instead of focusing on developing skills, they focus day and night on money and authority. It makes them lose focus on competency and instead try to find quick and crooked ways to achieve this. It is here people enter the dragon of corporate evils (politics, lie, deception, flattery, yes boss etc.). At this stage, relation takes a back seat and you can never have good relations with your team.

2. Poor communication : Sometimes even though intentions are good but your communication is not mature and skilled enough to convey your true message. Remember the golden rule; you are as good as you can communicate. Probably I will write another blog on art of communication.

First make relations with your inner strength. Be honest to yourself, trust your skills and respect your life and your moments of joy – be a leader of yourself. Always remember to apply these 3 principles with other forms of life. If you are there, people will like you can be leader of masses.