How “Get to know you” in distributed teams

blog, distributed

RES Software is a distributed software company. They have 230 employees distributed over eight offices and also many people working from a home office. Making sure they have one company culture, act as one team and trust each other is hard work. It will not happen automatically. One important thing you lack in a distributed company is the small talk, most people don’t do the small talk when they only meet in meetings. Small talk can make people feel like a team, it is important to really know your colleague. What are his or her hobbies, personal interest, his back ground etc. When you are really connected to team members, the chance on a successful project will increase significantly is my believe. For example, when your closest friend ask for help, or a neighbor who you only see a few times a year, probably you will help both but I suspect you are more committed to help your closest friend.

I believe in small steps, small improvements, small activities to get things happen. 1% every day. One of the things I started within RES to get people close to each other is the Yammer group: Get to know you. I read about the concept in this blog. David and Carrie McKeegan described: “For example, each Friday we post a “Get to know you” question and everyone chimes in — talking about everything from their summer plans to what book they are reading and sharing pictures of their kids. It helps build bridges that aren’t naturally there if you don’t work in the same office.” I loved the idea but sending an email every Friday to 230 people and people answering with replay to all… I don’t think it will be appreciated by most people. Also I believe you can’t force people to do something, people should voluntarily participate.

I created a dedicated Yammer group, with the name “Get to know you”. To give it a boost, I invited people who are active on Yammer, who would support the idea and also would participate actively. I initially invited around 15 people. Explained the idea of the group in the first post. The idea was to post a question every week, a question to challenge people to share information about themselves.

The idea was great… (I think J ). How did it work out?

I started the group end last year when I was at RES Software. At this moment they have 55 members in the group. Some of them just listening in, but most of them actively participating in the questions. The first questions were posted by me, but at this moment they post questions themselves or things they would like to know more about. They don’t post a question every week, I think two/three questions every month.

A while ago I discussed the idea to share why and traditions around public holidays within distributed teams with Lisette Sutherland and Andrea Darabos. This will be a small improvement for the Yammer group. Ask one colleague, who is from the location that have public holiday, to explain the holiday in this group. Why do they have a public holiday and what the people normally do on this public holiday.

Do I feel closer to people? Definitely, I know for example that Robert is also really into Lord of the Ring books. I learned that Helen also really likes Warehouse 13 when someone asked the question: “What is your favorite TV Series (at this moment)?”. I was impressed by some of the pictures that people posted as answer on the question: “I love to travel and I wanted to find out what is the best place that you have ever visited. For me, that was the Grand Canyon.”

Did it help them to become closer? I believe yes. Not everyone is participating in the discussion but at least I feel myself closer to people who share things they do in their private life. I asked the question in the Yammer group and 80% of the people said yes, they feel closer to colleagues.

What tips do you have to get distributed teams closer to each other?


2 thoughts on "How “Get to know you” in distributed teams"

  • Hugo messer says:

    The number one thing I heard from many people is to meet up regularly. Nothing beats real life encounters. Something simply changes after human beings met in person.
    Another one that worked for me is a strong communication rhythm, scheduled virtual meetings with a strong fixed agenda. In our weekly meeting we always start with good news. Five minutes of sharing (personal) stories.

    • Ralph says:

      Thanks for your feedback. Absolutely true! Frequent travelling will be necessary IMO. Also indeed taking explicit time to chit chat is important. It replaces the moments you don’t have at the water cooler. A Get To Know you group is just one extra tool. Distributed teams is a complex problem, so use as many tools as possible to “solve” the problem.

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