There is no “back to normal”: What about Distributed Teams?

The problem is hard to solve, and there are no clear answers: how can we take advantage of this unique moment full of opportunities and develop new working models?

Unlocking tech talent stories

June 9, 2020
Scaling software development and technology is probably one of the main challenges for organizations. Due to the COVID crisis, this becomes more critical and hard to solve, finding out how to “return to normal” or set up the new normal.

This crisis has told us those new working models are possible and, in most cases, more effective and productive. Independently, if companies are planning to return to normal or preparing to set up a “new normal”, change will arrive and happen, whether we’re ready or not. Something is already evident at this moment: everybody has to adapt to changing times.

The problem is hard to solve, and there are no clear answers: how can we take advantage of this unique moment full of opportunities and develop new working models?

How to prepare?

Software is eating the world, and so it’s increased complexity, so how can we deal with it? How can we handle more complex organizations and still manage coordination and inter-dependencies? How can businesses be resilient and, at the same time, become agile organizations with people working in a mix of setups and environments? How can we prepare for the “new normal”?

These problems that organizations and leaders are facing represent the “unknown”. It means that cause and effect are not predictable, and we can only deduce them retrospectively. There are no right answers!

Illustration of two people talking

The Cynefin framework (a Leader’s framework for decision making), classify these problems as belonging to the complex domain in terms of decision making context. It means that we cannot use traditional approaches or best practices to find the answers. No single person in the organization will have the answer. More people need to be involved in probing and sensing situations.

Traditional governance models and centralized decision-making processes will slow down any response or transformation and will not provide the organizations with the collective intelligence required. We need to find answers using “emergent practices”: decentralization and distribution are essential!

What does it mean?

Decentralized models are all about creating a robust network of teams empowered to operate outside the traditional hierarchy and organizational structures. Distributed teams can enable organizations to find new answers while promoting productivity, creativity, and effectiveness.

We can look to distributed teams as a mid-answer between “full office” or “fully remote” that allows companies to reach full potential and fit ambitious growth. They enable organization decentralization, without the wifi quality problems, avoiding the low sociability and loneliness. While fully remote solutions present fewer collaboration opportunities, distributed teams can benefit from decentralization while keeping a high sense of community.

Illustration of seven people looking to three computers

In response to the COVID crisis, organizations of all shapes and sizes are already adapting decentralized models. Setting up cohesive and adaptable structures, they can do it in a decentralized way, building a network of teams united by a common purpose that can gather information, devise solutions, and put them into practice — doing it all fast and with more agility.

Patterns from open source projects

Open source projects have managed globally distributed software teams, and some of them have achieved great success and longevity. Take a look at the Linux case, one of the world’s longest and biggest open-source software projects.

Linux, currently with 28 years of age, comprises an estimated community of 5000 to 6000 developers, with more than 26 million lines of code. It actively releases a stable version each 8 to 12 weeks and provides seven versions simultaneously. The challenges the project solved over the years and how it solved them are valuable sources of learning and give us patterns that help out and inspire when setting up decentralized models.

  • Communication: Distributed teams need to trust each other and share a vision of their goals. A constant focus on improving cross-team and decentralized communication must be part of the culture: as much as possible, aim for standardized and asynchronous communication practices.
  • Meet face2face: The Linux Foundation is responsible for facilitating and supporting opportunities for face-to-face collaboration necessary to solve complex problems and spark new ideas to guarantee the future of the project. The events vary from summits gathering, hands-on sessions, forums uniting developers, operators, and users. Follow the pattern: promote in-person group meetings and treat them as almost like mini-conferences. Consider forming a committee with interested team members to help plan it
  • Autonomy: The Linux community is always looking to reduce interdependencies to allow developers and teams to be fully autonomous, which means that they own the outcome and has the full complement of engineering, design, and product skills they need to deliver that outcome successfully.
  • Transparency: Open source projects are, without any doubt, pioneers in this topic. Starting a project as open-source implies that the community fosters a culture of openness and that it’s vital for growth and longevity. Embrace transparency as a common practice at all levels, adopt it as an explicit value, practice it consistently, and see it grow as part of your culture.

Do you want to know more?

If you want to know more about decentralized models and the challenges organizations will face with the “new normal” register yourself in the Distributed Teams Conference happening on 15–17 June.

Join us and discuss with your industry peers the following topics:

  • Culture & Communication
  • Distributed Teams & People Management
  • Workspaces, Infrastructures & Security

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Carlos Palminha
Head of Technology @ Landing.Jobs

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