It’s well known, Agile approaches favor face-to-face conversations and collocated teams.However, depending on projects and
clients, it is not always possible. Sometimes, team members are located in different places, have different cultures, and speak different languages. We do not always understand one another when in the same office; imagine when there is physical and cultural distance…

It is more complex to organize and conduct meetings when your team is distributed. Fortunately, current technologies ease communications. When organizing meetings for a collocated team, basic rules must be applied in order to be efficient. With a distributed team, the same rules are applied, but we must be more rigorous, and other techniques may be used.

Is spite of distance, we try to create proximity between team members, to facilitate their collaboration and involvement, to ensure their understanding, to share a common vision, to avoid the feeling of “them versus us”, etc.

If you act as Scrum Master or facilitator of meetings with a distributed team, here are 14 tips to have successful meetings:

Planning the meeting

1. Find a moment that is convenient to all participants (don’t forget to take time difference into account).
2. Use a Webcam, videoconference, etc., to make sure that everyone can see one another.
3. When presenting a document or Scrum board or doing a sprint demo, make sure all participants can see it while seeing one another:

  • Use a computer connected to a projector so the local team can see what you are presenting.
  • Use the screen sharing function of Skype or WebEx, for instance, so remote team members can also see what you are presenting.
  • Ideally, use a videoconference system that is independent from the one used for screen sharing in order to be able to see what is being presented as well as the reactions of all participants during the presentation.
  • Google Docs can be used to allow remote participants to edit the document in real time.

At the beginning of the meeting

4. Make sure all team members are visible and the zoom level is adequate. It is important to be able to see the non-verbal language of all team members to create proximity.
5. Present each participant, particularly, if it is the first time they see one another.
6. Make sure the objectives of the meeting are clear and approved by all team members. (With distance there is a higher risk for the meeting to get out of hand.)

During the meeting

Depending on the type of meetings (presentation, brainstorm, planning, retro…), the following tips may generally be applied:

7. Make sure there is only one person who speaks at a time.
8. When you want the team’s opinion, go round the group so all participants can be heard. In order not to forget to include remote team members, give the floor to them, then to local participants alternately.
9. Ask questions in order to obtain everybody’s comments and participation (even from the shy ones).
10. In doubt, rephrase what the person said and ask him or her to confirm that you understood well.
11. During the meeting, note in a document that is visible to all (i.e., projected or shared) all decisions that are made and all changes to be applied. This way, if participants have comments, you will get them right away.

At the end of the meeting

12. Remind the participants of the meeting’s objectives and ask if they have been achieved.Vote de confiance
13. If a decision or commitment has to be made by the team, proceed with the vote:

  • All participants vote by show of hands: for (thumb’s up), against (thumb’s down), or neutral (hand lying flat).
  • Everyone sees the vote of one another.
  • Ask to those who are against or neutral what it would take for them to be in favour.

14. If it is the first meeting with your distributed team, use the ROTI (return on time invested) method to find ways to improve the next ones.

In brief, to facilitate meetings with a distributed team, it requires organization, adapted logistics, and people who are willing to work together. And, as for anything else, the more we hold this type of meetings, the better we are at it, and the more efficient we become.

And you, what tips are you using to have successful meetings with your distributed team members?

For those who wish to find out more about Scrum in a context of distributed teams, I strongly recommend the following book that has been co-written by my colleague Steffan Surdek: A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum.

marc-andré filion-pilon

Marc-André graduated from Polytechnique Montréal in computer engineering in 1998 and has over 15 years of experience in IT. During his career, he held several roles in various fields, allowing him to get a complete overview of a project life cycle.

To open up new horizons, he lived in Belgium from 2002 to 2009. It is in 2005 that he took interest in project management and Agile methods, especially Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP). Since then, he is coaching, training, and taking charge of teams carrying out complex projects.

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