Orchestrating the Distributed Teams

Elena Sviridenko

Distributed teams vary in geography, size, demography, and many other aspects.
However, there is one word that says for all of them — the distance. Physical, mental, or cultural, it can easily tear a team apart, leaving behind a muddle.
Building and shaping the distributed but tight-knit team and then carefully orchestrating it all way long is a challenge for every product manager.
It may be a thorny path, but never a dead end, so you’ve just got to make it through.


Build the Team

The co-located teammates see each other throughout the day, talk, drink coffee together, hold meetings, having nearly absolute transparency over who is doing what and who is available and when.
Things are different with the distributed teams, and the distance does its bit.

Your job is to unite people and make them feel like they are one.

Identify your team values, the goals you want to achieve together and the personal goals of every member of your team, their strengths and weaknesses, and the impediments that you as a team are likely to face working together.

Let people better know each other, align on why they are doing what they are doing and how they can make their collaboration efficient.
You may want to use the Team Canvas — a framework specifically designed to contribute to the team alignment, building the team spirit, and increasing productivity.

Set the Rhythm

Structure well the way you work together to ensure the harmony and synchrony of your orchestra playing a piece.

Make it so that everyone knows who is available and when:

  • Share calendars to ensure complete transparency over all the scheduled meetings, days off, sick leaves, bank holidays, etc.
  • Use availability indicators in messengers
  • Use auto-responders in the mail clients when on holidays
  • Greet the teammates when you are on, and say goodbye before heading home

Simulate the work in the same office:

  • Opt for the video calls. Facial contact is not just about seeing each other, but also a powerful cognitive channel.
    Remember to watch your facial expressions and body language when in a video call.
  • Questions asked in one-to-one chats are a priority and should be answered as soon as possible, as if someone came to your desk.
  • Questions asked in the group chats but with the personal mentions (e.g. @andrew) are as important as the above, while they also carry the information of some interest for the entire group.
  • Questions asked in the group chats with no personal mentions, or by e-mail, are no emergency, and can be answered later.
  • Consider the time zones to make sure there is an intersection in the daily schedules for everyone.

Socialize in and out of the work context:

  • Set up the channels in messengers serving the not-related-to-work stuff: jokes, news, etc.
  • Encourage people to attend relevant webinars together, so they will share more topics to discuss outside working hours
  • Arrange the knowledge sharing sessions
  • Consider having a Hackathon once in a while
  • Use the art of small talk at the start of the meetings with your team to warm up

Establish ceremonies: daily standup, backlog refinement sessions, planning, demo, retrospectives, etc.

Ensure Transparency

  • Share news about the product with your team
  • Make the big picture clear to everyone
  • Configure the shared task boards, dashboards, and reports allowing for visualization of the progress and state. The team should have a shared understanding of where they are at every point in time, where they are heading to, and what the current challenges are
  • Make sure the team has access to all crucial information about the product

Respect Personality

  • Work with cultural differences
  • Overcome emotional barriers and foster the emotional intelligence in your team
  • To bring the team closer together, set up the internal portal where they could share some personal information about themselves (could be pictures, short bio, hobbies, interesting facts, stories, etc.)

Motivate

  • Value the contribution of everyone
  • Encourage enthusiasm for the craft
  • Build the trustful and healthy environment in your team
  • Ensure the team members feel free to express themselves

I am quite a fan of Motivation 3.0 — I am quite a fan of Motivation 3.0 — the concept based on intrinsic motivation. It suggests that giving the right amount of autonomy, promoting mastery and defining a purpose are a key to building the high-performing and self-organizing teams.
Read more in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink.


Building a great team requires a multifaceted approach and a strong attitude towards the challenges of people management. Well done work yields great rewards.

Screw the distance, go ahead and do your best to unleash the power of synergy in your team!

Elena Sviridenko

Written by

Product Manager & Experience Designer. Passionate about crafting the competitive solutions which deliver ongoing value and pleasant end-to-end user experience

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