At CAL we have been involved with remote teams for a number of years and have spend time understanding was makes a good team and what makes a great team. The problems with a team that is not located in one place are different to standard office-based team issues and although there is no magic wand or standard problems here are a few classic issues.
Communications - It can be frustrating to be waiting on information from other team members and this can cause tension in the team. What are the challenges of managing a remote team Of course the cause can be due to poor procedures, lack of training or inadequate technology, but is a management issue even if it is only a perceived problem. The results of these factors in a remote team will be isolation and the feeling of being out of contact with the organisation's heart beat.
Collaboration - Where more than one team member is involved in a project or task. This is the fundamental reason why a team exists because of the need to work together. This vital skill set can be anything from non-existent to excellent and is normally the result of a good team, working well and successfully.
This comes through team building and working together. If you want to know if your team is a team, ask yourself 'Are we a team or just a group of individuals working on the same task?' If you find that your team is just a group of individuals, then you need to examine what benefits a team culture would bring.
Control - The management and control of a remote team is vital to ensure that issues are identified early and action to correct is taken. By giving control to the team manager or leader, you allow the team to feel both valued and motivated, problems are dealt with and overcome, and productivity increases.
Very often an organisation can be working well on one location, meeting all management good practice, but not utilising this successful structure throughout the rest of the organisation. Any organisation must have a clear understanding of how effective a team is and learn lessons to replicate successful strategies within other teams. It is so often the case that teams become ineffective over a number of years, as early signs of productivity decay are just disregarded or even accepted as the norm.
If a team is working, then the temptation is to 'leave well alone', but this inaction can cause problems, for example: Motivation - If team members feel there is no focus or commitment to the team you will lose motivation and the teams inner momentum. At best, it will still function at worst they will be a group of individuals, some of which will be self-motivated, others will not.
Isolation - This can start as feeling out of contact, but end up as feeling under valued and alone. Efficiency - Task will take longer and no effort will be forthcoming on improving the team working. Hostility - Individuals will feel others are letting down the team, or they work harder than another member or team. This is usually a result of other factors, but sometimes is the first to surface outside of the team.
Cost - The team are not working effectively and see no reason to change or worst, see no one listening to them. The result is a team costing more than they should. Competitors - The ultimate price will be losing sales to competitors, which will only add to the frustrations of a team.Losing good staff - The key members of the team will not want to stick around and see no commitment to them, so give no commitment to the company.
It is very unlikely that you will see every one of these dangers, or that they will have escalated to an unacceptable level. But if you can see any of these issues within your teams, then take action now.