How to maintain cohesion within a distributed team

The pandemic of COVID-19 is tragic for human and public health as well as a major disruption of many companies. It has transformed all of our working teams – if not most of them – into virtual teams, meaning improvements in the working atmosphere, networking processes, workshops, technical channels and applications.

It is a fact that our jobs will inevitably be linked to constantly evolving technology. Consider that different employees react differently to work platform shifts. For the next distant workplace the bell curve applies. For the resistors, the “get-on-with-it-ers” and the “excel-ers,” the 10-80-10 curve is applicable. It is possibly the best time to examine the interpersonal activities of your team. What would you do for cohesion to maximize?

Danny Molnau, a consulting director at Vizient, Inc., defines team cohesion as “the extent to which team members stick together and remain united in the pursuit of a common goal. A team is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the team as a whole.” Team cohesion offers successive connections between greater self-esteem, strengthened team moral standards and better team results. Who doesn’t want improved team performance?

Here are some important ways for remote teams to create better cohesion:

The cultural perspective

Inadvertent information hosting can be almost as detrimental as intentional knowledge as it is almost difficult to tell the difference when combined with a general loss of communication. A rash meeting or a policy adjustment that is not adequately communicated can take place, resulting in remote workers being neglected or undervalued. Moments such as these are at the bonds of the team which erode the organisation’s confidence. The focus on openness will have major effects and include dispersed staff in decisions which may influence them.

Instead of asking “Is it critical that I share this information with every stakeholder?” ask “Is it critical that I conceal this information from any stakeholders?” You will notice that every example that you have placed into this basic litmus test leads to knowledge sharing—and that is a positive thing. Not only should the stakeholders believe like they have a say, but their contributions also lead to stronger and more successful decision-making.

The conceptual perspective

While maintaining dispersed personnel in loops is essential from a cultural point of view, from a realistic viewpoint it is just as necessary. Transparency and efficient information sharing allow distributor team members to do their job more efficiently.

Hugo Messer discusses one of the main explanations for that in a recent InfoQ article: “When a team is collocated, we all know who’s working on our projects and how we’re doing the work. We regularly reflect on the process, on the way we work, on the practices we apply. But we assume that the remote part of our team figures that out by themselves.”

Messer is describing a major, but relatively common oversight in distributed teams. While physically distant, distributed team members still have to be part of the conversation. Make sure workers can easily access information they need to do their best, provide them with a seat at the table during discussions that can affect them and facilitate the share of information other people may still need. Modern methods for teamwork make it much easier than in the past.

Transparency

Transparency is a key aspect in any healthy organisation, particularly with a distributed team. It is possible for workers living across the country (or the world) to get in the dark without accountability. This will adversely affect both the cultural and the practical side of a company.

Project management

It is difficult to keep up with what each team member is doing, and where they’re in the project without taking part in casual discussions in a co‐located workplace. Working in time zones will make it much more difficult, often leading to what the 36-hour email package is: One colleague sends an email to another living on the opposite side of the world, who is fast asleep. That person wakes up, gets ready for work, and reads the email. 

You don’t have to follow this train far enough until you know that the feedback loop is inefficient. Modern project management systems shorten this loop, so the whole team can keep up-to-date with any part of a project in real time. This allows colleagues to work asynchronously on the same project with minimal communication delays. There’s more transparency, efficiency, and productivity.

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