Hybrid Conf: The psychology of distributed teams

Hybrid Conf: The psychology of distributed teams

The psychology of distributed teams presented by Carl Smith (@carlsmith) at HybridConf 2013. Carl discussed his experience in creating a distributed team and what you need to do to create the best results. Here's what I learned from his talk.

  • When you start out there will always be uncertainty, so do something new.
  • Hierarchy's are bad, people at the bottom don't get heard by the people at the top. The people at the top get lied to.
  • Flat is chaos, there is always someone in charge.
  • You don't want assholes, distributed hide assholes which makes it much harder.
  • You want self-starters, people who wake up and know what to do.
  • You want social people, they don't have to be out going, they just need to like hanging out.
  • You need to be collaborative, you can't have people working as silos.
  • You want results driven people, someone who wants to know what happens.
  • People must crave feedback, question whether it was the right thing to do and want to know.

As a person you need:

  • Mastery, they must have a chance to get better.
  • Autonomy, they must feel they are moving in the right direction and feel in charge of their destiny.
  • Purpose, they have to have a reason.
  • Collective actions, you should openly discuss what they care about this week, have status meetings without discussing projects.
  • Energy, without people around them you should push clients for positive feedback and pass it around everyone.

As a team you need:

  • Transparency, tell everyone everything.
    • What went wrong.
    • How much money was made.
    • How much is in the bank.
  • Trust, you must believe in the people you are working with.
  • Support, spend time checking in with everyone.
  • Communication, tell the team what is going on.
    • Why you didn't win a project
    • What projects you won
  • Face time, distributed teams still need some face to face time.
    • Encourage inside jokes.
    • Create goal bubbles to find out what is important to everyone.
    • Tell people what you want but use real examples.
  • Local presence, everyone should be encouraged to meet local people.
    • Provide money so they can sponsor local events.
    • Encourage them to attend meetups.
  • Structure, put processes in place but keep them open, for instance you can use a wiki.

Ambient accountability

  • People will behave differently at home to when they are outside.
  • Power without experience can be dangerous but you don't have to win now.
    • Build something to win later.
    • Allow failure so you can learn from it.
  • Culture games are critical and hard to achieve in distributed teams, encourage them in every way possible.
  • Emlen Tunnell: "Losers assemble in little groups and complain about the coaches and players in other little groups. Winners assemble as a team."
Carl Smith presents the psychology of distributed teams
Carl Smith presents the psychology of distributed teams.