Tips for Working Effectively with Distributed Team Members

In a few classes I have taught recently, we have had some interesting conversations around working on distributed agile teams.  I always recommend trying to keep your Scrum team co-located whenever possible but in today’s world, distributed teams are unavoidable.  Here are some suggestions to help keep your distributed team members more involved:

 

1.    If the majority of your team is in one location and a few members are remote, get a large stuffed animal, blow up doll (not the adult variety please), etc to represent your distributed team members.  Bring the doll, stuffed animal, etc to all of your meetings and put them in a chair.  You can even write the names of the people it represents on a sticky note and stick it on the doll. The visual reminder of the people on the phone helps keep the folks in the room aware of the team members on the phone.

2.    Draw a table on a whiteboard where the meeting is initiated.  Write the names of all attendees on the phone around the virtual table.

3.    Use an on-line, real time collaboration tool that all team members can access during meetings. The Scrum Master can then put relevant data here for everyone to see.  If you have a distributed team, a physical card wall may not be a good choice.  Look into using tools like the GreenHopper plug-in for Jira or Rally.

4.    Get a web-cam and use it often.  I know a company that has a webcam running all the time in each office and has it is pointing to the task board.  Everyone can log in and see it whenever they need to.  The web cams are also used for daily stand-ups, etc.

5.    In meetings where the purpose is to gather information and form an action plan such as planning meetings, retrospectives, etc, try using the round robin style of gathering information.  Go around the virtual room and ask each person to contribute.  This way, everyone has a chance to be heard.

6.    Publish any decisions made somewhere where the entire team can see it.  Don’t bury information on an intranet or share point site that no one goes to. 

7.    Create some simple, fun games with prizes that encourage team members to visit the place (intranet, wiki, etc)  where you keep important information (like action items from retrospectives, etc).  For example, put trivia questions from Jeopardy on the site and give a fun award at the end of your stand-up to whoever responds first with the correct answer.  Or, you can track the results each day during the sprint and then give an award at your sprint demo.

8.    Devote a few minutes during each retrospective to discuss remote team issues and to brainstorm on how to make things better.  Follow-up with an action plan and re-visit it after it sprint.

9.    Pick a few times a year where everyone travels to the same location at once.  This gives everyone a chance to meet each other face to face.

10.   If you are not remote, then act like a remote employee for a day every now and then (i.e. work from home).  See first hand what the remote people experience so you can better understand the challenges they may be facing.

 

The point here is to get creative and go beyond simple conference calls.  Your Scrum Master should own the responsibility of managing effective communication and collaboration with distributed team members.  Make sure you are getting regular feedback from your team members on what is working well and what isn’t.  Collaboration on your distributed teams should be a top priority and you should be willing to make the necessary investments to ensure that all team members feel like they are heard and are part of the team.

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