June 2, 2021

Distributed teams: the BRIDGE that managers need to cross to get the most from their teams

Distributed teams are here to stay. More than 18 months since the beginning of the pandemic, leaders, and teams are still adapting to this new way of working. My point is, we all must learn something from this challenging time and we must do better going forward. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense. I selected 6 key concepts that will help you and your teams to continue to learn, adapt and navigate towards the future of work. I’m known for metaphors and here is one that will make the concept memorable: BRIDGE.

  1. Build the Culture of “People First” 
  2. Refine your Approach
  3. Identify the North Star
  4. Determine the Coordinates
  5. Grow the right Mindset
  6. Equalize your team

First things first, let's revisit the current scenario

As we enter the second half of 2021, many managers and a good number of employees seem to be looking forward to getting “back to normal”. As they see it, going back to the office, and putting the pandemic lockdown behind them as a mere bump in the road. In my opinion, there is no going back to that “normal.” Change is happening faster than ever. The 18-month period from January 2020 to now is equal to five years of change in previous decades. 

This current shift is just as sharp as the one that separated the pre-internet era from the internet era. Before that, the analog, paper-based world from the digital world of personal computers. It’s not viable to go back.  We have stepped over a line into a new world. Employees have learned that collaboration is no longer restricted by their physical presence in a single building. 

High bandwidth technology is fully established. In practice, this means the focus of successful businesses goes back to people and teams. The choice between success and failure will depend on how soon leaders accept the fact that people can deliver value to the organization and have a better quality of life at the same time. Both value and quality are not mutually exclusive. It is upon us to make it happen.

The Concept Behind Distributed Teams

I recently launched a book published by Apress, Building and Managing High-Performance Distributed Teams: Navigating the Future of Work. In it, I describe the approaches needed for companies, managers, and employees to fully benefit from a distributed work model. For people to work from anywhere, companies thrive on inclusive cultures. That means no center.  

As a point of terminology, it is vital to differentiate between remote and distributed. Remote workers always held something of an outsider status since they were patching into the “real” workplace but could never feel 100% part of it. An example of this would be joining a boardroom meeting by phone where there are limited possibilities for interaction.

The definition of Distributed, by contrast, is a situation where everyone is somewhere, but there is no need for a single boardroom to be the focal point. The tools of collaboration, meetings, and even one-on-one feedback chats are all available in the same online space. When everyone is remote, they become distributed.

A team should always be a “people first” construct. Yet, the physicality and politics of the old world workspace have often made that difficult. Issues such as commuting time, child care, physical accessibility, discrimination, and simple social dynamics have made the physical workplace a less-than-practical location for high productivity and personal career satisfaction. Over the past 18 months, we have been able to traverse an Equator of sorts, and there’s no going back. 

The BRIDGE Model that Helps Teams to Operate at High Performance

Are you wondering how you can successfully overcome distance, time, and culture challenges for geographically dispersed teams?

I chose to stay loyal to my beloved nautical themes by using the acronym “BRIDGE” to describe the key concepts. We need a connection to help bring people over from the old physical world to the new distributed one. We need to establish connections between managers and employees as they arrive here.

On a vessel, the bridge is the place where a ship captain coordinates the voyage and cares for the crew. On land, a bridge is a structure that connects people over distances and obstacles, so the acronym seems to work well as a metaphor in both instances. 

Here’s what BRIDGE stands for:

Build a culture of “people first” using empowerment and trust. This generates productivity, connection, and loyalty from team members.

Refine your approach. The best talent for your teams may be located anywhere and may have different definitions of work-life balance. Managers who refine their attitudes to geography, skills, lifelong learning, work equality, and other individual talents and soft skills, will build high-performance teams.

Identify your North Star and revisit it regularly with your team. Team alignment to the North Star is not a new concept, but it needs to be re-tuned to speak to the mindset of this new era. A vital contributor to Objectives and Key Results (OKR). North Star alignment ensures that team members can navigate and work towards the same goals.

Determine your metrics and coordinates. Measure everything. Observe distributed teams from different perspectives and angles. This includes, in addition to DORA metrics, the metrics of team mood. The mood is vital for understanding each team member as an individual as well as a part of the group.

Grow a mindset that will succeed in this new world. There is a significant difference between remote teams and distributed teams. A company’s future will depend greatly on a leader’s capacity to build a “distributed teams” model into corporate culture. Moreover, support it with upgraded leadership, streamlined collaboration, and technology.

Equalize your team communication and collaboration to ensure shared accountability. Much like a ship at sea, a company thrives on triangular relationships in leadership, teams, and metrics. By combining them, you create balance and maintain forward momentum without losing focus on your north star. 

Closing Points 

I was talking with a friend recently. His employer had clearly stated they would be requiring all employees to return to the office five days a week. You might be asking the same question I asked myself: what’s the reason or thought process behind this decision, right? Well, the reason is to be exactly as before. Bring back the physiological safety that people produce more when they are in the office.  He shrugged and told me he is already considering looking for opportunities elsewhere. That won’t take too long considering he is a very talented and experienced professional. 

To me, that sums it all up. The best and the brightest have their pick of employers and are no longer restricted to a commuting belt. The companies that get this will be the ones that are still thriving five years from now.

Building and Managing High-Performance Distributed Teams, by Alberto Silveira, is published by Apress and is available at AmazonApress, and Barnes & Noble. You can learn more about Alberto and contact him at his website, Crossing the Equator.

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