Shooting for High Performance: How to Build and Manage Global Project Teams

Image: Mooshny/
Image: Mooshny/

The number of talented, ambitious employees who value the greatest possible flexibility is growing steadily and offers considerable potential for companies that are thinking ahead. According to a recent study, employees only spend 50 to 60 percent of their working hours at their desk in a traditional office – distributed teams are simply more efficient. The world of work is changing and shifting towards becoming more democratic, which means that even small and medium-sized businesses now compete with large companies.

Flexible working models are key to this trend. In the form of digital innovations that make distributed teams feasible, the opportunity for real teamwork is opening up – all without an expensive office located in a real-estate hot spot of a major city. Today, local knowledge and special skills can be recruited worldwide. Thanks to remote work, not only different time zones can be utilised optimally – as a manager or entrepreneur, you can also address the “emotional time zones” and special requirements of your employees. This increases satisfaction and productivity and fits well with the great themes of our time: work-life balance and the compatibility of family and career.


So Much for the Good News, Now on to the Bad…

Naturally, these advantages involve increased effort on the part of managers and team leaders. Transitioning to projects with distributed teams requires new structures and workflows. Unfortunately, supposed loss of control and the fear of not being able to build personal relationships with team members can make many managers shy away from this change. Many team leaders also assume that employees will “take advantage of this privilege.” This skepticism is quickly transferred to the team. Motivation decreases, and performance with it. However, the bad news doesn’t have to stay bad. We did the research for you and put together a four-step strategy to help you build a high-performance team even if your employees span several continents.


Step 1: Virtual Work Can Be Planned, so Plan Ahead

Plan ahead as much as possible in order to approach the subject of agile work with more awareness and not have to jump into the deep end with your team at the beginning of a project. You may want to hire capable leaders who have high media competency and feel comfortable with virtual calls and meetings. Teams must be managed intelligently, especially without a fixed workplace. Create a framework for the cooperation – this is of particular importance when it comes to agile work. When should your employees be available? How are absences and appointments coordinated? Does everyone agree to the terms?

A key point: the right tools. Which tool can take over routine tasks? How will you communicate with each other? How will you assign tasks and keep track of the project’s progress? How can you work towards a common goal without sitting in an office together? Skype and Google Hangouts are popular for coordinating team meetings via video conference. Slack helps with the organisation and communication around various aspects of a project. With Surwayne, we offer you the opportunity to identify weaknesses and potential for improvement in your project at an early stage and motivate employees to participate through regular team surveys.

In addition to sound leadership and suitable tools, the right team members are also crucial for successful cooperation. An employee should possess certain characteristics for agile work. If a team member is never reachable and communication suffers, conflicts can quickly arise. Find people who can and want to work together. Make your working conditions fair and active. Give everyone the right to give input – before, during and after the project. This allows you to create a culture of trust, but not without rules.


Step 2: Time for the Project Kickoff

Communication is everything! Share your expectations and goals right from the start and begin assigning your tasks now. Once the rough planning is done, it’s time get more concrete. Define workflows and establish goals and strategies. Each individual team member should know what to do. Organise a motivating project kickoff for a successful start. Make sure that all involved employees are tuned in and have speaking time. Use these meetings to clarify the game rules once again. Flexibility doesn’t equal “everyone does what they want when they want.”


Step 3: Create Rituals and Actively Manage Team Spirit

A weekly meeting, online or offline and at a time that is acceptable to everyone, is absolutely essential to working without core hours at the office. You can counteract the lack of conversation in the office hallway by appointing experienced employees as “buddies” for younger team members and by regularly implementing personal feedback sessions. Video chats with individual employees help create closeness.

To foster a culture of reliability, you can schedule weekly performance reviews with individual employees. The importance of feedback can hardly be overstated when it comes to avoiding conflicts that, especially among distributed teams, often aren’t recognised until it’s too late. By the way: Surwayne is a direct and unbureaucratic way of finding out how your project and your employees are doing. Not losing track of the project’s progress is extremely important. In one of our blog posts, we reported that lack of communication and disagreements among the team are one of the main reasons why projects are often abruptly cancelled or subject to fatal delays.


Step 4: Change Phase or the End of the Project

You’ve made it – time to celebrate your success! This isn’t just fun, but psychologically, it’s actually beneficial to focus on the positive and toast to it. According to Minda Zetlin, author of The Geek Gap, a worthy finale is doubly motivating for the future. In addition to enjoying your achievement, use the time for constructive criticism, suggestions for improvement and a final evaluation. You can make this memorable through effective visualisation (with Prezi, for example) and add a nice finishing touch to your celebration. An opportunity for networking and a potential starting point for new projects and teams – now that’s what we call a successful project wrap-up!

Summary: Digitalisation is reshaping the workplace, and teamwork is faced with new challenges. For the management of a strong project team, virtual, distributed structures offer great opportunities in addition to some hurdles. Many decisions must be made and structures must be upheld against the odds, so real leadership is required! The basic requirement: management that deliberately advances the new forms of work and supports and leads the distributed teams. The primary means: excellent teamwork with a special focus on effective communication, which is ensured through regular feedback. Surwayne allows you to do everything in a single step: communicate between team members, offer simple and appealing opportunities for feedback and casually keep an eye on the project’s status.

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Jasmin Daneschumand

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