IPMA International Project Management Association
12 June 2017 / 10:32

Good practices for distributed project teams

In several blogposts we already addressed aspects of global project teams with aspects such as managing collaboration in virtual teams,  how to perform virtual meetings and elaborating on experiences during the GeCCo Global e-Collaboration Competition of the IPMA Young Crew.

Working with distributed, international and intercultural project teams is certainly a challenge. With this blogpost we want to highlight good practices for such a challenging situation:

  • Do a kick-off as face-to-face meeting emphasizing the team building
  • Clarify the language being used for communication; a third (neutral) language has the advantage, that no party is on its home base
  •  Define tools for communication, collaboration and documentation that all team members have access to and know how to use them
  • Establish a communication plan which shows all regular meetings, the
    participants for each meeting, the tools being used and so on
  • Clarify the (basis for) terminology being used throughout the
    project, e.g. by using the Oxford English Dictionary or a glossary
  • Check the processes being used on all sides and synchronize them by defining most important milestones with deliverables and dates
  • Establish a “project office” for administration and support of theproject team. Support could include coaching, training and advise
  • Consider trainings on intercultural differences and ways to bridge
  •  Clarify with the manager of the remote site to get a resource that is used to international collaboration, competent and available until the end
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities (for the PM and the team) including the line managers for remote team members
  • Pay special attention to clearly define the tasks for all team member (SMART), explaining all details and work towards a clear commitment
  • Flexibly adapt the leadership style to the cultural setting of the project team
  • Plan for more time, this could be 20% in smaller projects and could go up to 100% in more complex projects and divers team settings
  • Encourage more informal communication between team members to build trust
  • Appraise the efforts and successes to keep the motivation of the team high
  • Keep the team updated on progress in the project and relevant info about the context and stakeholders

In fact, it´s the people competences (see ICB4 ) that play a decisive role for managing distributed project teams. The label “manage” does not really fit here, we should replace it with “lead”, “facilitate” or “collaborate” because a different approach is needed for distributed project teams.


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Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. Reinhard Wagner has published 36 books as well as several hundred articles and blog posts in the field of project, program and project portfolio management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the IPMA in various roles and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Membership of several IPMA Member Associations.