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Creating a Project Team Environment When the Team is Dispersed

written by: PlatypusPaws • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/6/2011

A key responsibility of a project manager is to create an effective project team environment. This can be especially challenging if the team is made up of a variety of team members dispersed across various sites and possibly global locations.

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    Creating an Effective Team

    Effective Teams When considering an effective team, what often comes to mind is communication. Get people together as much as possible and encourage them to talk and share information, and hopefully they will bond and begin to form as a team.

    But rarely today are business teams located together at the same location and opportunities to see each other on a regular basis are few and far between. With dispersed teams, the opportunities for people to get to know each other, on social occasions and at the coffee machine, are also limited.

    The project manager needs to consider team project management and ways to encourage and build a team environment.

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    Team Project Management

    Regardless of location, communication is essential, and distance and location cannot be viewed as a barrier to prevent effective communication.

    When people are located great distances apart it can be tempting to rely on email. Emails are quick and easy to produce, but are not always effective ways to communicate. Emailing is one way communication; the recipient cannot immediately ask questions and the emailer doesn't know how the receiver has reacted or whether they have correctly understood the message. If a conversation relies completely on emails, then it can go quite some time before misunderstandings are realized.

    Telephone calls allow for discussions and conference calls permit groups to get together. However, not all people participate actively on conference calls as it is easy to remain quiet at the end of the line. Phone calls and conference calling are good methods of having team conversations; however. should be part of a varied approach to communication.

    Video conferencing is another alternative. With the visual aspect, people have a better opportunity to get to know each other a little better. Ensure that people behave as they would during an in-person meeting; video conferencing while responding to emails behind a laptop isn't giving the meeting full attention.

    While it may not always be cost effective, sometimes it is necessary for people to meet in person. The benefits of personal meetings can sometimes outweigh the cost.

    Software is also available to assist with team member collaboration.

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    Other Ways to Promote Team Effectiveness

    Explain Team Roles

    If team members are globally dispersed, it can be easy to forget about people located far away. It's important, at the beginning of a project, to explain to all team members who everyone is and what their role is. Through knowing what everyone contributes and the roles on the team, everyone can begin to understand how they should be interacting.

    Encourage Interaction

    It can be easy to not include a team member, particularly if time differences make good excuses. There are always ways around these difficulties (such as finding a mutually acceptable time to hold calls) and it is up to the project manager to demonstrate that excuses are not acceptable.

    Promote Understanding

    Sometimes feelings of "Them and Us" can begin to form when teams do not really know distant members of a team. It is better to address the situation well before it begins to form by demonstrating that all the team shares a common goal. Differences, such as language and culture, can quickly be accommodated once people know each other.

    Promote Team Effectiveness with Gantt Charts

    Gantt Charts are a way of visually presenting team progress. While it is often the project manager's domain to produce and update Gantt Charts, they are also a useful tool for a team to understand progress as well as dependencies. When part of a team, it is important to realize that others are dependent on you and that you are a part of a larger piece of work. Having the project's Gantt charts available to all the team helps everyone know where the project is currently at, understand upcoming tasks, and know the key activities that the project is dependent upon.

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    Overcoming Challenges to Team Effectiveness

    Diverse teams add another dimension to team project management. Team members sometimes need help and encouragement to form and bond as a group. Distance and differences are easy excuses to keep people at a distance, but with some encouragement these barriers can usually be overcome.