Team productivity is a source of risk in any project. Low team productivity can trigger other issues, including schedule delays, unsatisfactory quality of the deliverables, low team morale, which, in turn, can all lead to the project’s failure. The project management approach, the project manager’s skills, the changes in project scope are some of the risk factors for a team’s productivity. But often the issues and conflicts that arise from the team itself are the causes of low productivity. The productivity can suffer when the teams are distributed rather than collocated, and when there are cultural differences among team members, since both situations can generate conflict and miscommunication.
Collocated vs. Distributed Project Teams
Since creating a cohesive team depends on how the team members communicate and bond with each other, there can be significant differences in productivity between collocated and distributed teams. In collocated teams, communication is facilitated because all team members are physically in the same environment. However, with the modern communication technologies, including videoconferencing, e-mail, and VoIP, distributed teams can also communicate effectively. As a technical report from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, demonstrates, one of the problems in distributed teams is that members do not bond as easily as the members of collocated teams do, so it can be difficult for collaborators to trust each other. As a result, the teams do not work effectively together, which is likely to decrease productivity and even generate conflicts. There is obviously no quick fix for this problem.
Risks to Productivity in Agile Projects
Having a cohesive team that works well together is crucial especially in agile projects, where the teams are self-organizing and even cross-functional at times. On the one hand, having distributed teams is becoming necessary for many organizations in order to keep their costs low, find the best talent, and keep up with the their competitors. On the other hand, having distributed teams in agile projects adds a new layer of complexity to the project, not only because the teams are self-organizing, but also because daily meetings can be difficult with local time differences. The productivity can suffer. The role of the project manager, if any, is crucial. This person needs to be a leader and be able to motivate the team to work effectively, solve issues when they arise, and prevent conflicts. In large agile projects, organizing the distributed team in smaller teams, and having a project manager to facilitate communication between teams can be a partial solution.
Pros and Cons of Multicultural Teams
In multicultural teams, either distributed or collocated, cultural differences can decrease productivity, but this happens in newly-formed teams because of stereotyping, difficulty in bonding, and difficulty in communication. Interestingly, on the long term, multicultural teams are known to be more creative and more productive than uniform teams, as Scott E. Page revealed in his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Once the diverse team members overcome their cultural differences, these become an advantage, as the different ways of approaching problems and using creativity are complementary, and translate into a better, more effective and productive team. So while a multicultural team is an advantage in long-term projects, cultural differences can be a problem in short-term projects, which is likely to decrease productivity and even create conflicts within the team.
The Project Manager is the Ultimate Problem Solver
Regardless of the cause for low productivity, finding a solution is usually the job of the project manager, at least in traditional projects. In agile projects, where the teams are self-organizing, it is crucial for the team to establish and respect ground rules.
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