The Future of Distributed Teams

The rapid growth of global IT service outsourcing business has driven the rapid development of the global IT service outsourcing industry. Although domestic outsourcing service companies have sprung up like mushrooms, problems such as shortage of talents, team management, distributed collaboration, and others have always plagued the development of the industry. Solving these problems is a key element that every team and every outsourcing service company has to solve, and it must keep pace with the times.

People in Offshore Teams

People are the first element in an organization. Which attribute does a person want to show, to what extent does he want to show, what motivation is behind it? When we make a product, we can easily generate the consciousness of ownership and do everything we can. But how do we cultivate this sense of ownership when doing outsourcing projects? One benefit in an outsourcing team is that you can choose to join the projects and technology stacks that you are interested in. Of course, this involves two-way choices between projects and engineers. If offshore teams can narrow the distance between customer and create value to end users through hard work, the sense of satisfaction and achievement will inspire them to do better.

Agile development has higher requirements for team members, especially developers. They shall have good communication skills, a humble attitude, and an enterprising spirit, which happen to be the reason that makes many teams discouraged when facing the challenge.

In offshore teams, individuals must learn to adapt to constantly improved personal skills and process.

Manage Personnel Change

Offshore teams should pay attention to the sustainability of team members, but the frequent personnel change is the characteristics of offshore team. There are many reasons for personnel change, some are the need to optimize the composition of the team at different stages of the project, some are planned team replacement, and others are the overall team migration. Whether it is active or passive, it is fundamental to manage team knowledge in the process of change.

Knowledge Transfer

Look at newcomers through the eyes of veterans. For example, if you often take the subway, you will be familiar with the rhythm, that is, when to get on quickly and when to wait for the next one. If you don’t take the subway very often, it will be difficult to distinguish the length of platform ring- tone and the interval between platform ringtone and subw'ay ringtone, and the time interval from the ringtone to the closure of compartment. Now let’s look back to the team, as an old team member, we are already familiar with the team and take for granted many things. Therefore, we should be enough patient enough with new members to help them get started as soon as possible.

We should do a good job in project knowledge inheritance. The project’s overall knowledge is important. We can use the project introduction, technical architecture diagram, and project roadmap to help new members rapidly get to know about a project.

Manage environment as code is another good practice. After new developers run a few commands, a development environment can be quickly established locally. It is very important to get all up-to-date contents, which can ensure the comprehensiveness and correctness of knowledge. In theory, newcomers can start working immediately.

Team Migration

The migration culture of internal projects of software outsourcing companies also reflects the variability of outsourcing projects, both passive and active changes will occur. Now domestic software companies are also showing a multicenter trend, which help companies hire more talented people from many places.

A trend is that outsourcing teams are shifting from first-tier cities to second-tier cities, since the labor cost in first-tier cities continues to rise, while the labor reserves in second-tier cities are getting better and better, creating conditions for such migration. We need to create conditions for this kind of migration, otherwise, it may result in loss of knowledge, declining technical capability of new teams, and mounting risks in projects.

A team that actively seeks change will have higher productivity and creativity, while a changeless team will become inert and deprive the team of motivation. This is the biggest impetus for enterprises to support team migration except for cost considerations.

How to Maintain Team Culture Amid Personnel Change?

Offshore teams often face this situation: one person has made achievements in the team, such as building a complete testing framework, but he is then replaced by a newcomer. Will this testing framework lack maintenance and the value of the result drop sharply? Personnel change in teams should be considered in terms of maintaining the sustainability of team plan.

How to help newcomers quickly integrated into a team? We'd better draw a roadmap to make them get familiar with the job left by their predecessors. Project manager shall do his own part to help newcomers integrate into this team.

Personnel change, especially recruitment of newcomers, can be a catalyst to expose problems in a team more thoroughly, while these problems may be difficult to attract attention without personnel change.

Distributed teams should maintain a uniform level of professionalism, which means that there is an available code of conduct for newcomers to follow and to stick to the philosophy of “we are one team.”

Recruiting new people may make existing team members feel anxious. When their work is to be handed over to newcomers, we should make sure that they know it is a part of the project development. If possible, before these things happen, develop a handover schedule, and distribute it to those concerned, set expectations for each task, and ensure transparency when making any changes.

Regardless of how to maintain the loyalty of a project, the loss of best talents in a project from time to time is inevitable. We should not prevent it or delay its occurrence, but to actively find ways to deal with this inevitable situation. Usually, the technical difficulties at the early stage of the project have been investigated, the necessary specifications have been established, and the process of cooperation between teams has been formed, what we should do at the later stage is compliance since the risks are already greatly reduced. After reaching this state, even if some key team members choose to leave, the project remains safe, and the established standard team culture will have a strong digestive ability to accept new members.

Create New Culture Amid Changes

All successful projects start with finding the right persons, and the project team members only take responsibility when everyone starts to trust each other. On the contrary, if we have no trust in some members, then the only solution is to keep monitoring at them to do things.

Everyone is unique, and everyone has their own advantages and disadvantages. Although we tend to seek like-minded people, teams with talents with different styles and different advantages are much better. The advantage in a certain field may become a disadvantage under certain circumstances, and a team that combines the advantages of all sorts of talents will be more powerful. Although different strengths can lead to conflict, members in a healthy team can appreciate the differences of each other, not hate each other.

When selecting team members, there is also a common situation where too much emphasis is placed on ability. Of all the successful teams we have encountered, no one has all the necessary abilities at the beginning. In fact, we found that the team itself is a powerful mentor to cultivate its members with necessary skills. Therefore, when selecting team members, the development potential and proven ability of candidates should be given equal attention.

Putting people at the first place, motivating everyone, giving them the environment and support they need, and believing their ability to complete the work, which are necessary conditions for creating a unique team culture.

Implementing the three-in-one team culture of learning, practice, and sharing is the best team cultural atmosphere I have ever experienced. It is a decisive impetus for the growth of team members and the establishment of a learning organization. Mastering theoretical knowledge through learning, testing the effect of learning in projects, summing up, and then sharing with the outside world, this is a virtuous circle.

Pay Attention to Personal Performance

Be sure to use KPI as a guide for personal career. Many people will ignore this problem, and the pursuit of their goal is limited to the work of the project. Others are not doing projects that are of interest to them, but they have not brought this out. They devote considerable energy to things that are of interest to them beyond the project. These two types of team members work hard and seriously, but they do not match the company’s KPI. the result is that their performance results are much lower than their expectations, which is also a loss to their company.

Find the Best Hitting Point

"The best hitting point” is a term in sports, which means that the conditions in all aspects are particularly well matched, and athletes can achieve the best results. In our work, we need to find these three points that “I like,” “I’m good at” and “valuable.” When we find that we are doing something that combines the three points, we can achieve a good result in very little time and bring more value to ourselves and the company. In this way, we may become those who work especially efficiently in the eyes of others. How to find our own best hitting point? Simply put, find projects in areas of interest and choose popular or skilled technology stacks. But what does “valuable” mean ? It is a means being able to produce results and enhance your influence.

Invest in People with Offshore Teams

We can invite experts, either from the outside of the team or from the same company, into our team to help everyone locate problems, and thus improve the ability of engineers. For example, maintaining high-quality code can obviously improve productivity. Or we can apply for a certain amount of training funds to facilitate self-improvement of each team member.

In addition, regular retrospective meetings and team-building activities are also one of the ways to improve team efficiency and ability. Since technologies have kept improving, our team shall remain in a state of being improved. To this end, we shall motivate every team member to learn new skills, and it is necessary to make everyone feel valued and respected.

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