The secret to distributed teams

More and more companies decide to establish distributed teams. This is more of a requirement of our times. It seems like tomorrow’s business will be more virtual and distributed.

Members of a distributed team share a common goal. In addition, teams such as ours, work using Agile methodologies, and we apply Scrum principles. Therefore, in the team whose members work in different locations, communication is essential.

Effective communication in a distributed team can be a real challenge. However, it is possible to arrange it so that the work will proceed very smoothly.

Choosing the tools which suit your team best is the path to success.

The top problems and what to do with them

  1. Lack of face-to-face communication

We need to remember about the benefits of in-person communication.

Based on the a graph comparing the effectiveness of modes of communication with the richness of the communication channel employed:[1]

We may say it’s recommended that the members of a team strive to meet face-to-face at least once during project’s lifecycle. Team formation and relationship building allow team members to ‘break the ice.’

It’s also the best way for your team members to feel connected with each other.

Of course we may face different blockers in communication. Sometimes we really can’t avoid them.

  1. Communication in a foreign language

If team members come from different countries, the norm is to use English. However, the level of language proficiency may be different. When not everyone is a native speaker, it’s good practice to follow up in writing. It is important to have something in writing that goes over the key facts and decisions so that your team can refer to it if they’re unsure. It also helps to double check that you are clear in the first place.

  1. Time differences may be another problem

Members of distributed teams often work in different, sometimes distant time zones. In our case, part of the team work in Gdańsk, and the second part work in Leeds. Time difference is one hour. We have to keep that in mind and remember about public holidays and lunch times, as it’s really important to ensure maximum participation in all Agile team meetings.

  1. We need to remember about culture differences as well

On the chart graph on the right side, you can see the comparison of Poland, United Kingdom, Denmark and India cultural differences based on Geert Hofstede*[2] research on cross-cultural groups and organizations.

Let’s compare the biggest difference – dimension called Uncertainty Avoidance:

“Poland scores 93 on this dimension and thus has a very high preference for avoiding uncertainty. Countries exhibiting high Uncertainty Avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (…), people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation.”

“At 35 the UK has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance which means that as a nation they are quite happy to wake up not knowing what the day brings and they are happy to ‘make it up as they go along’ changing plans as new information comes to light. As a low UAI country the British are comfortable in ambiguous situations ….”

“With a score of 23 Denmark scores low on this dimension. This means that that Danes do not need a lot of structure and predictability in their work life. Plans can change overnight, new things pop up and the Danes are fine with it. It is a natural part of their work life. (…) What is different is attractive! “

”India scores 40 on this dimension and thus has a medium low preference for avoiding uncertainty. In India, there is acceptance of imperfection; nothing has to be perfect nor has to go exactly as planned. India is traditionally a patient country where tolerance for the unexpected is high ; even welcomed as a break from monotony. People generally do not feel driven and compelled to take action-initiatives and comfortably settle into established rolls and routines without questioning.”

If you want to understand more, please visit:,india,poland,the-uk/

We need to accept cultural obstacles and keep in my mind that we’re different. Knowing each other better will help us avoid misunderstandings and help to improve our communication. Despite all cultural differences, we are primarily humans and we are very similar when it comes to relationships with other people. We should focus on building trust and having respect for each other. Of course, we can do much more, but addressing these areas is a good start.

Based on my own experience I can honestly say that working in a distributed team can give you a lot of satisfaction. It also gives a lot of sense of freedom and teaches us a completely different approach to work and cooperation.



Article written by Senior Scrum Master at Arla – Alicja Łapa