I’ve started as a technical lead and mentor to a team of developers co-located in the US and London. The company is a Fortune 500 company who are clearly investing in tech and have a hunger for innovation–so I’m really excited about being involved and where this team will go!
There are some clear challenges here. The biggest will be working with co-located teams whilst being based in Bath. On the face of it, this separation might seem counter-productive, however I am reserving judgement till a later date as I’m starting to see some big advantages as well. Let’s consider a couple now.
Lack of Communication Skills are more Apparent
The two teams, separated by several thousand miles and a 7 hour timezone difference need to work effectively together. This will only happen if there is a good relationship and communication between them. This kind of communication is more than a set of regular meetings. It’s a relationship and a sense of teamwork which operates at a micro level. It’s a skill which takes discipline, and no small amount of courage.
I am finding myself in the position where a team member’s communication with me will be an indicative of how they communicate with other members in a different location. It’s an opportunity for me to encourage and nurture the discipline of working closely and to help reduce some of the fears that surround approaching people one has never met face-to-face or spoken to before.
It’s easy to mistake regular interaction with valuable interaction
Let’s ask a hard question: How much progress do we really make when someone next to us can show us the way every time we arrive at the same problem?
It’s real progress when something takes 10 minutes (*2 people = 20minutes, not considering ramp-down-up-time) to complete where otherwise it would have consumed an hour. However if you don’t take this opportunity to learn–and you repeat this a few times because it is “easier”–we have not gained anything. In fact we’ll probably have a frustrated helper who can’t focus because of interruptions.
With this in mind I am actively looking at how people are progressing through screen-share sessions and code reviews. Having the separation gives me more control over how I allocate my time to these. It is allowing me to plan how both myself and the company can invest in skills–and ultimately productivity, quality and innovation.
Having said all this, there are some really hard things about being separated by space and time.
I often want the opportunity of witnessing how the team interacts with each other, in and out of the office. I try to visit London fairly regularly and will visit the team in the US for a week every so often. This helps me build up this awareness of people working together and being “team”–even so–it is still an area which is hard, and finding other ways is important and something I am focussing on.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The other hard thing is it’s natural for “out of sight, out of mind” to happen. This tends to be with those I am not in regular contact with and have a number of their own priorities and responsibilities. This is a good illustration of how important it is to have the courage to build good relationships and be aware of how other things are progressing.
I have great expectations that this team will go from strength to strength. We already have some key members with the skill, drive and creativity to move the project forward. These are “good times” as one of my team-mates often says!