Can Agile companies work with leading virtual teams? The answer is YES. Here we debunk 5 common myths we’ve seen along the way.
There are many of forces driving change in the workplace these days. As we roll into a new decade, the new workplace looks a whole lot different than it did ten years ago. Among digitization, new technologies, increased emphasis on collaboration, and a million other changes in the workplace, we can also name the adoption of Agile principles.
This is a movement that began in the software industry about twenty years ago but in the last decade or so, other industries have discovered the benefits of being Agile, too. The main reason? The Agile approach to software development has proven to be perfectly aligned with the goals and sentiments currently being adopted by companies learning to thrive in the 21st century.
One way the 21st century organization is learning to thrive is by working with virtual teams. As the talent pool expands globally, companies can home in on employees who are perfect for their organization, without being limited by geographical constraints. That is important, since many talented individuals can’t afford to live in high-rent cities, which is often where the jobs are. Hiring remote workers allows companies to broaden their talent pool and give them access to workers who would otherwise be inaccessible.
Between these two movements – Agile adoption and the growth of virtual teams – a few myths have sprung up. We are here to debunk five of these myths about leading virtual teams with Agile companies.
Myth #1: It is impossible to overcome the cultural differences
We will start with a belief that is obviously very outdated, given that we all live in a connected world. People from different cultures see no cultural barriers at all when connecting on social media, absorbing content from all corners of the globe, or finding their tribes on specialized forums where they can share their delight of common and unique interests (Medieval weaponry? Antique pottery collecting? You name it, there is a tribe out there for everyone).
That said, it is still important to work toward finding ways for your team to connect on a deeper level. If your organization is based in North America, for example, it may help to source your team in South America since there will be less of a cultural adjustment than for a team that is based in, let’s say, countries in Europe or Asia.
Myth #2: You can not have a daily standup with a virtual team
In the increasingly digital era, where people are becoming very comfortable with connecting over the digital sphere, there is absolutely no reason why your daily standup cannot be digital, too. Video conferencing technology has experienced giant leaps forward lately. There is Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. There are interactive flat panel displays in conference rooms, so anyone with a laptop can connect and interact, no matter where in the world they might be sitting at the moment.
This puts the onus on the managers responsible for meetings, since the technology is only as good as the way it is used. Managers or leaders should be sensitive to the needs of remote workers and should be equipped with the kinds of skills that will help bring people together over the Cloud.
Myth #3: Virtual teams should be expected to stay up late (or get up early) to accommodate your hours
That may be true to an extent, but a 12-hour time difference can mean your virtual team is staying up all night to work for you. In the long run, that is not very healthy or sustainable. You want your team to be strong and motivated, not exhausted because they work the night shift. One way around this is to source your team from a country that is in the same time zone as your organization. That way, your Daily Scrum does not have to be a Nightly Scrum!
Myth #4: Managers have no role with Agile virtual teams
One Agile principle in particular has led to the rise of this myth:
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
Letting the team organize itself? Set their own tasks? Decide how to do things? This makes a certain type of manager queasy – the type who drills down to the micro level and assigns tasks for each individual on their team.
The best managers develop people, not tasks, and they set objectives for their teams, foster a good environment in which teams can thrive, and let them get on with things. They motivate and they communicate.
All of this is not new, and it is not even Agile. It goes back to Peter Drucker, the famous management theorist who laid out five jobs for managers.
With virtual teams, the manager’s job is even more crucial: develop your people, develop your team. Technology bridges the geographical gap but a manager can provide the corporate culture glue that binds a team together and encourages buy-in and motivates everyone to work toward a common goal.
Video: How to manage virtual teams effectively in software projects
Myth #5: It is hard to establish trust and accountability
This is a hard myth to dispel because the ways you build trust with virtual teams are not the same as the ways you build trust in on-site teams. That leads some people to believe that it simply cannot be done. But it is not impossible – just different.
Trust building takes time and it is basically an extension of teams getting to know one another. Again, that is a different ballgame when workers are dispersed but that does not mean it will never happen.
Accountability, which is a big deal in any Agile organization, is built on trust so it is important to use everything at your disposal to build it with your virtual team.
Some tips: enable your people, encourage them to do great work, do not micromanage. Engage them on different levels, encourage them to chat with you outside of meetings. Get to know them, in other words, and listen to their needs and goals, finding ways that both can become aligned with the goals of your company.
The Takeaway: To maximize the benefit from virtual teams, Agile leaders will have to put the work in
Leaders, managers, and teams all know that it takes a village to create a great virtual team environment – or at least they should know! Each has a role to play when it comes to fostering the right type of company culture – the kind that promotes an Agile approach to product development (or whatever your company may so), as Agile is not just for software development companies.
Leaders can begin by acknowledging the importance of hiring the right kind of people – both on-site and remote employees, who are dedicated to Agile principles like accountability, communication, motivation, the ability to be part of a self-organized team, a focus on the customer, and continuous attention to technical excellence.
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